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Education ... why does it matter?

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In the United States, there are more than 600,000 American Indian and Alaska Native children in the K - 12 school system (USDE, National Center for Education Statistics, 2005), and unless something is done, more than half of them will never graduate from high school (EPE Education Center, 2007). That's just not OK!

Most agree that money can't buy happiness. On the other hand, the lack of money can sure buy hopelessness. When you can't feed your family and have no place to live, no access to quality health care, no means of transportation and no way out, why wouldn't you just give up? The cycle of poverty exaggerates social problems like drug and alcohol abuse, gangs, and the deterioration of the family unit. This cycle can be stopped. It won't be easy and it won't come quickly, but education can make it happen.

Education does not require that we abandon our past. Education teaches us to live in a radically changing world, grounded in the richness of our history while preparing for a future of promise for the next generation.

''In the old days, Indian people had no written language. They carried all the knowledge in their heads. They got the knowledge by listening to their elders, by reflecting and thinking about the world around them, and by praying and seeking visions. By such meditations they arrived at a profound knowledge of the Great Spirit, of nature, man and the world. It was handed down by word of mouth. The important aspect of Indian wisdom is that it causes those who possess it to judge other people for what they are and not by what they have. ...

''Indian wisdom looks inside all things to get the real meaning rather than judging by outward appearances. This is something we need so badly today. The modern Indian can explode words, ideas and subject matter. Take them apart and put them back together again. Sort values and seek truths. Be objective thinkers. Take solace and gain pride from our values that gave us the will and strength to survive so many years. ...

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''You will be truly educated when you can take your place with dignity as contributing members in both cultures. Take the best from our old values and combine them with the best of the new, and you can be a very strong man or woman. Knowing all these things, you can stand tall with pride, instead of walking with head bent smelling your knees.'' - Esther Burnett Horne (1909 - 1999), great-great-granddaughter of Sacajawea

The journey that begins with education replaces hopelessness with power. It is power that allows us to control our own life rather than allowing life to control us. It is power that gives us the strength to build a better life for our families and the resilience to stand up when others would fall.

Education allows us to take our journey with wisdom as our guide. It teaches us to dream big dreams, knowing that we have the knowledge, skills and determination to make our dreams come true. Education builds self-esteem, Native pride and bright tomorrows.

Education is not an option. We must keep our kids in school. Celebrate education. Teach our children that they have the absolute right to a beautiful life.

Debra Abbott Pain is the executive vice president at Apollo Market Development.