Many people after watching the ABC 20/20 special, “Hidden America: Children of the Plains” may be asking, “What can be done to help?” The special depicted the daily lives of young people on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, home of one of the poorest counties in the United States. Like ABC reporter Diane Sawyer inquired at the end of the special, you may also be wondering why American Indians even stay on their reservations.
I am from the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, neighbors by geography and tied by family and marriage to our relatives on the Pine Ridge Reservation. While my journey in higher education now finds me serving as president of Northwest Indian College at the Lummi Nation in Washington State, I regularly travel back to my homeland and my family.
The Lakota, Dakota and Nakota bands scattered throughout the Northern Plains and into Canada are bound together by our cultures, languages and our blood. We are one people, with shared languages, beliefs and relationships. We are unique in our understanding of how we came to be people. Inyan, the first creation, gives of its blood to create the sky and water and gives of itself to make the Earth, Maka. We emerge along with all of the other nations onto the Earth—to live with strength and generosity.
Our way of life comes from creation and from the teachings of creation and cannot be turned away from or who we are as a people will be lost. Like many people who meet others with powerful military weapons and a strong sense of righteousness and determination, we were unprepared for the onslaught of European and East Coast settlers onto our homelands. Our people fought hard to keep our homelands and to save our way of life.
While it is true that every Native American is touched in some way by poverty and by the symptoms of poverty—addictions, health problems, lack of access to education and resources—every Native American is also touched by their spirituality and love of their homelands and their knowledge of what it means to be a tribal people. This knowledge is what binds us together as people who love and support one another. This knowledge is what gives us roots in our homelands and what keeps us in the place of our ancestors. This knowledge is what inspires hope and promise for our children today and for future generations.
Education is a way for all Native people to prosper. Tribal colleges and tribal schools are the contemporary places from which our cultures thrive and through which we adapt to modern life. At Northwest Indian College, for example, we address the unique circumstances of Native American students within the framework of an accredited, two-year and four-year college curriculum.
We estimate that every student and graduate success impacts 35 other people. Our students serve as role models for their children, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces, neighbors and friends. As a result, every college student changes the literacy and education level not only of the individual themselves, but of entire communities throughout the Northwest and our country.
We welcome your financial support. To learn more about tribal colleges as a path to prosperity and abundance, you can visit the websites of individual colleges like Northwest Indian College. I also invite you to explore the American Indian Higher Education Consortium or the American Indian College Fund.
Cheryl Crazy Bull is the president of Northwest Indian College, which is located at 2522 Kwina Road, Bellingham, Washington.