Educated on the Red Road

 In contemporary vernacular  we speak of education as empowerment and emancipation,  but the a violent history of boarding school education and brutally enforced assimilation is not too far in the past. Reconciling  the potential of education as a powerful tool for good with its dubious history is not easily done. This poetry explores these themes in the first person voice of my beautiful mother who was taught by her Kiowa grandparents the value and import of education.  (Intro by Rachel Cocker Hopkins)

12733587_951455354902926_1159356659935231568_n(Picture credit: Photograph of Stormie Perdash By photographer Kate Sultuska Hurt )

A native american experience from over 270 years ago- The year 1744, when the colonial commissioners of the territory of Virginia had negotiated a treaty with the Indians of the six Nations. As a part of that treaty these Indians were invited to send their young men to the college of William and Mary, one of the first institutions of higher learning established in the colony. The elders of the tribes took this treaty home, spent an evening considering the offer these commissioners to educate their young men, and on the next day 17 June, 1744, answered the commissioner thus:
‘We know that you highly esteem the kind of learning taught in these colleges. And the maintenance of our young men, while with you, would be very expensive to you. We’re convinced, therefore, that you mean to do us good by your proposal, and we thank you heartily. But you who are wise must know that different nations have different conceptions of things. And you will not, therefore, take it amiss if our ideas of this kind of education happens not to be the same as yours.
We have had some experience of it. Several of our young people were formerly brought up in the colleges of the northern province. They were instructed in all your sciences. But when they came back to us, they were bad runners, ignorant of every means of living in the woods, unable to bear either cold or hunger, knew neither how to build a cabin, take a deer, or kill an enemy, spoke our language imperfectly and therefore were neither fit for hunters, warriors, nor councilors. They were totally good for nothing.
We are, however, not the less obliged for your kind offer, though we decline accepting.  To show our grateful sense of it, if the gentlemen of Virginia shall send us a dozen of their sons, we will take care in their education, instruct them in all we know and make men of them.” (Deloria & Junalska, 1976 in Spiller, Barclay-Kerr & Panoho 2015)

 So many reflecting, not deflecting, circumspecting the realities. I loved this reality of our history rarely told or discussed as we push ourselves into the mold of the dominant despite our history of mistrust. Look into this reality and see yourself differently.

I, like the two generations before me, laud academic education, it is part of a ‘means to an ends’ as a tool in surviving in this cross cultural world. It is a silencer to the gatekeeper who would otherwise deny my voice and it is the bridge as I traverse between the world I value and the one I am cohabitating.(Everywhere you see an “I”, there is a preferred “we” but in respect to the belligerent and those who prefer to shuffle over to the dominant— “I” ,though tribally not a form used to represent- will be the pronoun).

My point is not to disavow or demean the merits of education they are part of the divine. Increased knowledge, part of the tools we use to increase our spherical intellect through cognitive collecting….a trait so ingrained to the hunter and gatherers of our indigenous people. It is the idea that we are ‘not to par’, ‘substandard’, or ‘inferior’, that I reject. Reduced to a political slur by the colonial dominant culture and that this is ‘acceptable’, and ‘justifiable’, a ‘reliable’ measuring stick.

It is a lie. It is a regurgitated, propagated, defecated lie.

We are powerful, endowed with the spiritual gifts and knowledge given to our people through the creator of all things. This innate knowledge, passed through the collective and carried, not only in the retrospective, but in the day to day practice of our language and mores. It is powerful and defining. It is part of that spherical whole of intelligence that creates our oneness with each other tribally, societally and in our walk with nature and the divine. To ignore and denounce traditional wisdom is to labotom-ise nations of nations of indigenous people and stunt the production and existence of leadership within. There is no need then to kill their language, this act of denouncing traditional wisdom and it’s important merit of knowledge is to kill the perception of ‘self’. We become ghosts. Like those painting of Indians with no faces. We cannot see ourselves and the dominant society releases themselves from every broken treaty as we implode from within like the ‘deathstar’.
In this two dimensional, flat faced skewed view of reality as it is propagated and spewed in sound bites across our daily existence, I just say, “hang on a minute”. Let’s revisit who you say I am. You people put your hand over my mouth and for generations, we had no voice. Now as you re-write what is right and ‘what is’ knowledge. Traditional wisdom, spiritual awareness, intuition, compassion, is not a grunt, or a nod, to a world dead and buried at wounded knee, lost at the battle of the Washita or washed out to sea. It is an innate, viable, powerful source of knowledge along with all the cognitive reckoning within me.
  • Deloria Jr V. & Junalska, A. (Speakers). 1976. Great American Indian speeches, Vol. 1 (Phonographic Dics). New York: Caedmon. in  Spiller, C., Barclay- Kerr, H,  & Panoho, J.  (2015). Wayfinding leadership: groundbreaking wisdom for developing leaders. Huia Publishing: Wellington.

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