The Cleveland Indians finished a historic 22 game run in August and September. I’m not a big baseball fan and I generally avoid hearing anything about the Cleveland Indians; however, since their World Series appearance last fall avoiding it is becoming increasingly harder to do.
Setting aside historic trauma, there is one common factor that affects students across urban, rural, suburban, and reservation locations: negative racial stereotypes. These stereotypes are all around us from the food we eat to the Halloween costume store, from the films we watch to the books we read. The most common stereotypes seen are the dehumanizing mascots in our high schools, colleges, and major professional sports leagues. The topic of dehumanizing mascots reached the Minnesota school board in 1988 when they identified them as negative and harmful to students. In 2005 the American Psychological Association, in their Resolution Recommending Retirement of American Indian Mascots, proposed an “immediate retirement of all American Indian mascots, symbols, images and personalities by schools college universities, athletic teams and organizations.” This was “based on a growing body of social science literature that shows the harmful effects of racial stereotyping and inaccurate racial portals.” Nonetheless, such mascots remain representatives of our professional teams across the nation.
So what does this mean to educators? I am asking that, as an educator, you please be conscious of the images and messages used in your classroom. Please use reliable sources when teaching and discussing Native Americans, such as the ones found here. It is easy to teach about Native Americans only in the context of the past, as if Native Americans are now gone, but that is a fallacy. Sometimes we show images of them wearing headdresses, living in tee pees, and fighting with the “white man,” but forget to show the bigger picture. We do not want to leave Native Americans in the 19th century: Native Americans are here and are in today’s classrooms.
When thinking about what one teaches students, it is fundamental that students are taught that Rochester, Southeast Minnesota, the entire state, and the entire continent once belonged to hundreds of thriving societies. This nation wasn’t just empty space that was stumbled upon and inhabited with no impact to anyone.
Even more important to acknowledge is that today these societies are made up of 567 federally recognized tribes in the United States (there are additional tribes that are not federally recognized or that have lost their federal status). Plus, there are also the indigenous people of Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Samoa to consider. Within the state of Minnesota there are eleven federally recognized tribes: these tribal nations are representative of two different nations of people. Seven of the tribal nations are of Ojibwe or Anishinabe people. The other four tribal nations are Dakota: these Dakota people made their way back to their ancestral lands after being outlawed, murdered, and forcibly removed from Minnesota a century earlier. Some students may not even realize that the word Minnesota (Mini –Sota) means “land where the water reflects the sky”—a Dakota phrase that pre-dates the country of America.
In Rochester Public Schools we have approximately 150 Native American students. These students are on a continuum from full blood Native to second generation descendants. The families that make up these 150 students are from 37 different Native Nations. Our students’ collective knowledge about their home communities and their people vary as much as their blood quantum and tribal nation diversity. What is constant is that they all identify as being Native American.
What does this mean for our Native American students? Statistically, it means that only 49% are likely to graduate high school in four years. It also means these students will struggle with academics, violence, and legal issues.
The academic numbers here are largely representative of the rest of the state.
If you want more information on this topic, or to understand this topic further, please contact me or attend the “Not Your Mascot” session during the district wide, October 5th professional development day.
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