Today thousands of Indian children will return to school for a new year, some will be attending their first day of school ever. Whether it’s the nervous Head Start student or the excited senior in high school, and even the Indian students in institutions of higher learning, from tribal colleges to Harvard, all are enjoying a brighter educational experience because of Ted Kennedy.
We mourn the loss with the rest of America, for “the Lion of the Senate” has gone home at last to be with his brothers and other cherished family members. His special relationship with Indian country and longevity of service to Indian country makes him one of our icons.
Forty years ago he completed the work of his slain brother Bobby by chairing the Special Senate Subcommittee on Indian Education, and delivering the famous Kennedy Report to Congress: “Indian Education a National Tragedy, a National Challenge.” This report launched the National Indian Education Association and the modern movement for tribal control of Indian education.
We thank the Creator for giving us his life, and we ask for courage to gracefully let him go.
Tens of thousands of Indian children, including my daughters, are showing off their new clothes, their new shoes and backpacks. They will sharpen pencils and organize their school supplies; they will decorate their lockers and reunite their circles of friendship. Some will walk through doors of new or renovated schools; get to these schools in new buses, on newly paved roads. All of these hard fought victories were advanced by the Lion of the Senate, from the Indian Education Act to the Tribal College Act, and most recently the reauthorization of Head Start.
His steady hand of leadership watched over Indian education and guided us from the wilderness of disenfranchisement, and being powerless to a position of strength in advocating our needs.
We thank the Creator for giving us his life, and we ask for courage to gracefully let him go. Regardless of who controls Congress or the White House, we in Indian country are standing on an isolated island that is a little lonelier now, one less friend, one less champion in a place where we had few.
Let us use his words to give us strength “The work goes on, the work endures, the dream shall never die.” We may not know what the future holds for Indian education, but we know now because of the Lion we have much greater control of that future.
It is Indian country that will determine the educational destiny of our own children. It is Indian country that must do the work and endure the necessary hardships to ensure that our dream of world class education for Indian children never dies.
Ryan Wilson is an Oglala Lakota, and served as the National Indian Education Association president from 2005 – 2006. He is currently president of the National Alliance to Save Native Languages based out of Ethete, Wyo.