On November 18th, 2014, Not Your Mascots’ Johnnie Jae attended the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education in Oklahoma City, OK to share her thoughts on Native education. The 2014 WHIAIANE Listening tours were the first ever opportunity for students, schools and communities to express their concerns and share their experiences with bullying, student discipline, mascots, cultural appropriation and other issues that affect Native students.
Johnnie spoke about the need for a mandatory and comprehensive course on Native American History from authentic indigenous perspectives. You can listen to her testimony or read the transcript below. We’ll also be sharing a few testimonies from others in attendance in our Learning Lab.
Last year, Oklahoma had one of the highest graduation rates in the country for Native American students. We’re in a very unique position because there are tribes and organizations that are working closely with the state and schools to strengthen the level of cultural understanding and integrate our history and languages into the classroom, but there’s more that we can do on the education front that will help the other issues that Native American students face not only in the classroom but within society at large.
One suggestion is working to make Native American Studies a mandatory CORE course. The Marysville School District in Washington will soon be voting on the integration of the Since Time Immemorial curriculum as CORE curriculum and adding Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States as a supplemental text in U.S History courses. What makes this so ground-breaking is that teachers can easily integrate the curriculum into their existing lesson plans and provide authentic perspectives and histories from tribes that are located in their area, creating a better cultural understanding and learning environment for native students. The Since Time Immemorial curriculum is centered around introducing tribal perspectives on historical and current issues, eras and events as well units on how our sovereignty and political systems work. This is something that we should look at here in Oklahoma because we have over 30 federally recognized tribes, yet units on Native American history tend to clump us together as if we are just one group, rather than diverse and sovereign nations with very different histories, languages and traditions. It’s important that we start teaching the diversity of tribal nations and explaining how our sovereignty works, because we still land run re-enactments, spirit weeks and rallies where kids are encouraged to dress in redface, thanksgiving lessons that promote racism and stereotypes, native mascots and students being punished and forbidden to wear their regalia and feathers during graduation ceremonies.
Tonight, three fearless 8-year old future Native Women leaders presented their own testimonies before the entire crowd at the U.S. Department of Education’s American Indian Alaskan Native Education Initiative Listening Tour, each expressing their disdain for the current status of education, which includes forced reenactments of the Oklahoma land runs (thefts) , the use of deragatory mascots, & the need for Native history in their classrooms. I am beyond proud of each of you, Ryleigh, Gabby & Kiki.
Whether you realize it or not, these incidences create hostile learning environments for our students and they do play into the reasons why we still have roughly 40% of our students not finishing high school. The whitewashing of our history and identity and the widespread exposure to the stereotypes perpetuated by mainstream media, literature, mascots, and other means do have an effect on the way our students are treated in the classroom. Native students enter the classroom and are expected to be under-achievers and troublemakers until proven otherwise. Even then, their achievements are framed as something gained DESPITE being native due to the systemic racism that has ingrained a subconscious notion that being native is something that must be overcome. The way that our history is taught, the way that we are portrayed by the media has made the issues that we face in our communities synonymous with our identity as native people. Providing a more comprehensive and well-rounded history of indigenous people will help in allowing our native students to be seen as who they are aside from the skewed perspectives of history and stereotypes, creating a better learning environment and to foster better relationship between students and teachers as well as between the schools and native communities.
Not only that, but it will help us as native communities keep our youth involved with our history, our languages and traditions. It will help them and their peers understand who they are in both the historical and modern context. It will renew their sense of worth, worth that has been stolen through the use of mascots, stereotypes, the erasure and whitewashing of our true history. We owe it to our youth and the generations to come to do what we can to start changing the way that we are viewed as indigenous people on the most fundamental levels and that begins with education. Thank you.