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Cultural identity and academics are like bread and butter


For as long as I can remember, low academic achievement levels and high dropout rates have been synonymous with Indian students for the past 200 years. At the same time, our college-trained educators, both “Indian” and non- “Indian,” have failed to address these negative statistics. The one thing they did was to escalate their push for more academics with no consideration for their cultural identity.

Consequently, our elementary students are still floundering here in the 21st century and it seems hardly anyone knows what to do to reverse the situation. At this rate, we won’t have any “Indians” left in the near future. Without a doubt, we have seen some college graduates but overall, the majority of our youth are still falling through the cracks of that educational floor.

Sadly, a few of our Indian graduates who are now educators/ teachers do not speak their Lakota language and are culturally handicapped. Are we abandoning our language and culture for western values and culture? Reminds me of those funny but mostly sad stories I heard about young Indians going away to boarding school and coming home speaking English only.

I examined a chart called Achievement Status and Growth Summary that was implemented during 2017-18 school year at our local elementary school. It indicated the bulk of our students scored in the Low Achievement (low growth) quadrant and while a few rated in the Low Achievement (high growth) quadrant. A tiny percentage was indicated in the High Achievement side of the four quadrants.

In other words, our students are not doing well as far as academic achievement levels are concerned. At this time, I cannot compare this report with previous results simply because I do not have access to them. The future for our younger generations is certainly looking bleak.

As adults, we should all know by now that academic achievement is a by-product of concern and effort by parents who work in conjunction with college-trained educators. We must stop expecting teachers to “educate” our children without parental involvement and realize that their high dropout rates are the direct result of low academic achievement levels, combined with parental neglect.

Additionally, we have had western academics forced down our throats since 1819 when this government decided natives must to be “civilized.” The first Indian schools were run by a wide variety of religious groups so they taught their Bible to Indians too. They were to abandon their languages, customs, histories, and learn the new cultured way.

Our ancestors were correct in their belief that we need to learn their academics. I feel we need to continue the academic aspect of our existing Indian education youth’s psyche and it is causing them to lose interest in schooling as well as life itself.

It was during the early 1990s that I learned why native students have such negative educational statistics. I tried to share this information with local educators in the hope that they would move to correct the situation. Instead, I and this newly acquired information were trivialized and even ridiculed but no one took the initiative to try to improve our “educational” situation.

In a nutshell, Indians have never been an essential part of America simply because American history simply does not include them. Dr. John F. Bryde III (Modern Indian Psychology, 1971) pointed this out in his book. Indian people are still portrayed in a negative light in educational texts at all levels, from children’s books to college history texts.

By Indian people, I am referring to those who have a limited English vocabulary, grew up in dire poverty and survived years of assimilation. Initially, such students enter school eager to learn but as they grew older, they realized they are not part of the whole. What little they see is distorted, erroneous, and detrimental to their self-esteem. Many quit high school and still more never enter college.

Those few that do go on to college and graduate are forever changed. They no longer speak their native languages or are knowledgeable of their ancestral history and culture. They know only western academics, American history, and values associated with materialism. These people are incapable of effectively improving our dismal educational statistics.

So, the big question is, “What can we do about it?” The first thing to do is for parents to acquaint themselves with the history of “Indian Education.” Also, families must re-incorporate the concept that “the past is as important as the future” back into the tiospaye and family value system. Tiospaye history is identity and self-esteem.

Also, emphasis must be placed on homework. On the average, American students in this country spend about one and half hours a day on homework. Are our elementary students capable of spending up to three hours on homework? It could lead to quality family time.

This is something to consider seriously as one study (Indochinese Refugee Families and Academic Achievement. 1992) indicates that Asian students spend up to three hours a day on homework and they are the most “successful” of all minorities in the modern world. Of course family or cultural concepts were never part of this “Indian education” process.

For parents, reading out loud to your children can only lead to higher grade point averages. It does not necessarily have to be reading in English as Lakota story telling is just as effective especially for natives. Families that retained their family traditions and values outperformed the families that readily conformed to American culture and language.

The study indicated that the most important to consider for parents is to realize that grade point averages tended to improve both parents shared equally family child rearing tasks. It may take a long time but this could eventually improve our tiospaye and family situation by addressing single-parenthood.

Loneman School’s Lakota Studies Department has taken the initiative to bring about awareness of the role of the nuclear family, language and culture, and education. Taking that a bit further, the school is striving to bring about an awareness of their student’s origins, their customs, their history, and contemporary issues like treaties, government, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Parents must make an effort to support their school by taking part in the learning processes of their children. At the same time, our adult educators must also transition to learning and appreciating local culture and language. In this way, schools and families will work together to promote values that support genuine educational achievement for our students.

(Ivan F. Star Comes Out, POB 147, Oglala, SDD 5774; 605-867- 2448;

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