The other morning I came into contact with a report by Jonathan Cook from the Aljazeera international news station. His correspondence, Israeli textbook ‘bad for Arabs, bad for Jews,’ resonated with a recent discussion I had. Mr. Cook shared a piece on the war and conflict segment on Israeli’s ministry of education’s effect on Palestinian students and their inability to pass present day state exams in order attend college. What spoke to me was the country’s minority advancement of shifting majority educational standards to reflect more non-dominant views on socio-political and historical narratives. The discussion I had with my mother reflected the same “revolutionary” step in educational autonomy for Native American sovereign communities.
I reflected on traditional Navajo cultural norms, pre-colonial lifeways, and current dominant American standards of education and “success.” I could identify with Cooks statement that “the curriculum in Arab schools has always been strictly controlled by Jewish officials,” which resembles westernized paradigms of enforced educational systems of learning upon indigenous inhabitants. Over the past few centuries North American Native populations have undergone cultural oppression and involuntary assimilation. I personally have felt the effects of conflicting norms and I am just beginning to deconstruct my own colonized worldview.
I have come to realize that as a young Native American woman I have been expected to uphold a standard of living that reflects success from a non-native, paternalized worldview. I have been confused in how to be in the modern world that is authentic to who I am and where I come from. The feedback I have received when I am not in accordance with western ideals says that I am less than, other than, or nothing at all. In the educational system there are stereotypes that reinforce these perceptions. Native American’s are seen as illiterate, ignorant, and dumb due to the educational challenges that are not addressed. The curriculum does not reflect the values, beliefs, and core principles of what it means to be a successful, indigenous student.
For thousands of years Native Americans have learned how to be in this world from storytelling, community modeling, and spiritual practices. Learning to read and write is a recent phenomenon for most Native American populations. Oral traditions taught us traditional values and beliefs which have kept us in accordance with one another, the natural universe, our ancestors, and spiritual beings. Our spiritual practices demonstrate and reinforce reverence, humility, and wisdom in honoring Mother earth, Father sky, and everything in-between. Ceremonies, rituals, song, dance, and artistry are imbued with Spirit and have provided coping mechanisms in order for us to survive for millennia. Where is the curriculum that tells of our creation narratives and speaks to our resiliency and indomitable spirit? Where are the history books that expose the countless acts of genocide, oppression, forced displacement, many other historical injustices?
I am inspired and impressed by the Palestinian’s overt challenge to autocratic paradigms of education. As a sovereign nation, the Navajo tribe has the authority to make changes to the curriculum being taught on and around the reservation. We have the power to shift educational standards and goals to echo our traditional heritage. With assertive intentions we can preserve and rejuvenate our culture and people as a whole.