This letter features reporting from “South Dakota’s History of Indigenous Erasure in Education” by Jordan Rusche
Dear Tasha Kama,
The erasure of cultural identities, values and traditions is seen all over the world, though it was an especially rampant issue in the history of the United States. Most history classes in America briefly address cultural erasure as if it has all stopped and has not occurred for hundreds of years. The reality that cultural erasure has never stopped and is still very prevalent in our society, and its effects are still felt by minorities facing discrimination every day. The article “South Dakota’s History of Indigenous Erasure in Education” clearly addresses three of the main reasons Native American culture and values have been so limited in a school environment. The reasons in question are a “history of forced assimilation, failed legislation efforts, and a lack of teacher confidence,” which are all unacceptable and should not still be issues Native Americans must continually fight against.
This issue is something I care deeply about, since I have family members who have felt the brunt of cultural erasure and oppression in their childhood years. My older relatives have told me stories about not being able to embrace their own culture and being punished for speaking their native language, but instead having to speak only English in school. On a larger scale, the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom is not a very well-known historical event to the average U.S. citizen because it is barely acknowledged and has been a suppressed issue for years. Having the ability to speak about these things so easily on the internet, connected to millions of people around the world, allows me and other minority groups in my position to spread awareness about these important topics as well as calling for reforms in the systems we observe. A great deal of the passion and drive I see in my own community fighting the erasure of culture stems from the desire for justice and for wrongs to be righted. I believe this is also what unites so many ethnic groups who have faced cultural erasure around the world together, proving this is not a singular issue in one place, but is in fact worldwide.
Although it may be a long and difficult process, I believe with continued effort and determination to connect culture and education, classrooms across America will be able to better incorporate values from Native cultures into the curriculum of K-12 classes. Native Americans have fought for representation of Indigenous culture and values in schools for years, and though there has been success in some places, there are still challenges in many schools to properly incorporate Indigenous culture in curricula and also have teachers who are confident in their ability to include it in their teaching.
I would like to suggest training courses for teachers of all ages, experience levels, and ethnicities that inform participants about the importance of incorporating Native culture into classrooms and the positive impacts it can have on children, especially Native children. These courses should also include the history of that specific culture and how it has been oppressed and still is today. Volunteers and guest speakers of that ethnicity could also come in and speak to these teachers, which would also allow a space for teachers to be able to ask questions they may have in an appropriate setting. These talk sessions will help by better equipping teachers with the emotional skills to connect to and support students who are a part of a minority group. If someone as influential as a teacher is not aware of the differences in how we exist in the world, how can they begin to understand their students and teach them well?
Thank you for taking the time to read about this issue. I truly hope my letter provides clarity about what needs to be done and how important the incorporation of culture in the classroom is, not only to me or my school, but to kids everywhere around the globe.
Briseis Obregon is a senior at King Kekaulike High School in Pukalani, Hawai'i.