Education requires recognition of original peoples


Your editorial, ''Education must prepare Indian students for leadership, citizenship'' [Vol. 26, Iss. 43], piqued my interest. Education is of vital importance to our existence as Original Peoples. Despite grave misgivings, I advise the same to my children and grandchildren.

I believe it's not identity we lack - it's societal recognition of our being as Original Peoples. Look at the federal register to see if your People's original name is there. Most likely it's a misnomer, if not an epithet (e.g., Dakota, Nakota, Lakota Oyatepi kin, The Friendly Peoples, are listed as Sioux tribes). The Dakota communities here in Minnesota have attempted such name changes and been administratively denied. As for culture and language, such terms are taxonomical in nature; when applied to our lifeways, or original systems of knowledge, they actually relegate our knowledge to a lesser place - and value - within the curricula that's being taught to children.

How important is naming? For the Friendly Peoples, ''traditional'' names connect us to all that is. How important is a conceptual understanding of life? The common response is, ''Why even bother? Such things are best left to the experts.'' That attitude alone speaks volumes about the real world product of today's educational systems - programmed citizens whose identity and knowledge serve the interests of the nation state.

If it's true that oppression is an ongoing fact of life for the Original Peoples of Turtle Island and if the source of our oppression can be traced to the spirit of greed, can we expect that our youth will be prepared to deal with a terminal, spiritual disease which has institutionalized itself in the nation-state and is inculcated (by institutions of religion, science, government, law, education, media) into its citizens?

While it's a fact that our tribal governments are structured and quasi-legally recognized as semi-sovereign nation-states, here's another reality, the ageless memory of us as a people. The very concept strikes fear and ruthlessness in the charcoal hearts of the greedy: witness the obviation of the term People at the United Nations - such an international, legal definition would establish much more than ''rights'' or ''human rights.''

Working knowledge of the term would do much to remind everyone of our relatedness and the common-sense responsibilities of being human and a relative. If there are such things as rights or privileges, our lifeways teach that they stem from the fulfillment of responsibility. Such conscientiousness is why our ancestors befriended, adopted, intermarried, defended against and made peace with the colonial nation-states - and it's why we now fight their imperial wars for them.

Truly, our ancestors were empowered by age-old, loving relationships with Mother Earth and the Circle of Life. Fear of such empowerment is the reason why the relational concept - Peoples - won't be codified in law nor recognized by science as empirical knowledge. So, my relatives, we must ask ourselves: What will we leave our unborn generations to learn about life and how to live?

Hou, mitakuye owasin, all my relations.

- Francis J. Yellow