Native America concealed and omitted from American history
Oglala District Representative, Stephanie Leasure, offered me an opportunity to provide prayer for the first day the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council’s April session. The meeting was at the Br. Renee Hall located at the Our Lady of the Sioux (Catholic) church in Oglala.
I offered my prayer in my first language. I am not sure if my words were understood since most do not speak Lakota. I asked everyone to offer their own prayers also so we could all pray as one. It went well as all present knew it was a moment for prayer and acted accordingly.
Being asked to offer prayers for meals or gatherings has always been awkward for me. I am not by any measure a “medicine man.” I am a faulted human. In fact, it was a confusing time many years ago when I was given a pipe for the first time. In time though, I learned of that ancient way of life and gradually accepted it. I am still learning today which will continue until my time here is done.
I was also asked to provide some words of encouragement. I stressed my brain trying to come up with the proper or appropriate words. I resorted to the wife’s astuteness as she has been my guidepost for the past 46 years. The words “”speak your mind” became my inspiration and it became easier. However, I don’t know how my words affected the participants.
I spoke of the true nature of the congressional law, the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934, under which a constitutional form of government was written and implanted here. The agents in charge of the reservations did not bother to develop a formal course of study to educate the people on it. Instead a standard curriculum for teaching a biased American government was instituted.
The absence of schooling regarding this new “tribal” or IRA government included our history and the old tiospaye system. It has only served to obliterate the traditions of the Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires). My point being that formal Social Studies curriculum regarding the IRA, the Interior Department, etc. is still lacking in all the reservation elementary schools.
Our youth deserve a healthier chance to learn to interact with the greater society and to prepare their children to live their future as opposed to surviving as we have. I believe this is what Tatanka Iyutaka (Sitting Bull) referred to with his quote about putting our minds together and building a new path.
At any rate, I hope my words of “encouragement “didn’t ruffle feathers or cause feelings of animosity. That was not my intention. Rather, I was trying my best to place the truth on the table for all to see. My hope was for all to see the reality of our situation here on the Pine Ridge. We enhance our chances of fixing our problems by knowing everything there is to know about them.
We do need tribal legislation to encourage our schools to rethink their elementary Social Studies programs. From the beginning of Indian Education (1818), we were exposed to a racially biased American history. It excludes the history of the so-called “Indian wars” and treaties. Not one word is mentioned about the life and times of the continent’s original people.
Like everyone else here, I entered the local political arena in 1974 completely unqualified because I was never formally instructed on this IRA and its constitution. So, my education was on-the-job. I noticed that every single person involved in tribal politics was as educated about the IRA as I was. One hundred percent of the voters are in the same boat.
Ideally, our eighth grade graduates should have basic facts about the IRA and high school graduates a working knowledge. Knowing the history of these entities and/or documents has positives that have remained untapped. Knowledge of Oceti Sakowin culture, history, and language has an optimistic potential for native youth that has yet to be proven.
I believe a solid history curriculum could reestablish in our students a contentment that existed during the pre-contact era. This involves the old system of government. The government used the IRA system to replace that time-honored and proven system. Historic events and facts must be acknowledged simply because they are the truth.
Knowing one’s history allows wholesome access to the laboratory of human experience. We are all aware of what this standing one-sided educational exposure has done for us. Essentially, we are still enduring the adversity it has wrought and surviving when we could be living life to the fullest.
History as it occurred is one thing. Possessing knowledge of it is another. It is “no more or no less than carefully and critically constructed collective memory. As such it can both make us wiser in our public choices and more richly human in our private lives” (McNeill, Why Study History” 1985).
American history essentially distorted, hid, and omitted Native America. Sadly, I have heard many a contemporary educator express a fear of “producing generations of radicals and militants” if we teach them about our actual history here in the United States. The question to ask here is “What constructive outcome is there to hiding the truth regarding historical events?”
Anyway, a comprehensive course of study should involve students at the earliest possible age and continue through junior high and high school and into adulthood. One positive in all this is the fact that our colleges are teaching native history however our young adults are learning about it for the first time. Language acquisition has followed the same pattern. They should be learning history at an earlier age.
Anyway, in a basic sense, history helps people to understand change and how the conditions we endure today came to be. A Lakota Social Studies curriculum would include the Oceti Sakowin (including their obliteration and near extinction), along with the buffalo economy, the family unit, local tiospaye histories, government, culture, maps, games and activities. The possibilities are endless.
Omitting historical events related to Native America is not a coincidental event. The act, as appallingly biased as it is, was intentional and done for the purpose of establishing and maintaining the new republic. The problem with this is that it callously, and effectively, excluded Native America from American history and from society.
Again, offending anyone was not my intention. Rather my goal was to educate with some truth. I extend an apology to anyone who may have been offended by my words a couple of weeks ago. I’ve penned my concerns about this particular problem in the past and I am getting to be a bit redundant. So, for any native person reading this, I leave a question, “Why is it important to be aware of our own past?”
(Ivan F. Star Comes Out, POB 147, Oglala, SD 57764; 605-867-2448; mato_ firstname.lastname@example.org)