TAHLEQUAH – Climate change concerns, preserving Indigenous languages and storytelling though music and art were just a few topics at the 46th annual Symposium on the American Indian held April 16-21 at Northeastern State University.
“This symposium has been a long standing part of the community,” NSU Center for Tribal Studies Director Sara Barnett said. “This is a space for everyone to learn about our people, to learn about our culture, to learn about our perspectives and why we feel certain ways about different things.”
This year’s theme was “Walking with our Ancestors: Preserving Culture and Honoring Tradition.”
“It means to reflect on the experience that American Indians have in terms of walking in two worlds. We have our tradition, our culture, but we also have to operate within mainstream society and balance those two things and integrate them when possible,” Barnett said. “Also, if you travel outside of Oklahoma people don’t believe that you’re a real Indian. They say, ‘we thought you guys were all dead.’ But we’re not. Our culture is here and alive.”
The symposium hosted several keynote speakers, including Dr. Daniel Wildcat.
Wildcat, a Yuchi citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, is a professor at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, who has studied climate change for more than a decade. He used his April 19 session to present “More Trails of Tears: Intergenerational Trauma in an Age of Climate Change.”
“My presentation really focuses on the way that climate change is presently impacting Indigenous people around the globe and is likely to affect a lot more nations and Indigenous peoples in the next century,” he said. “We’re seeing people right now that are really looking at having to relocate.”
Wildcat said there could be as many as “200 million climate refugees by 2050” and that Indigenous people will be taking a “leadership role in the next century” to address climate change.
“The systems that have created the problem aren’t Cherokee systems. They’re not Pawnee systems. They’re not Seminole systems,” he said. “These are systems that came from other people and other parts of the world. I think it’s time for us to speak up and really live up to our caretaking responsibilities for this Mother Earth, and I think we can do so.”
The symposium also hosted smaller sessions on topics including cultural identity, lifeways, tribal research and language revitalization.
Cherokee National Treasure Betty Frogg, a Cherokee Immersion Charter School second grade teacher, brought her students to the symposium on April 18. She, along with NSU Coordinator of Academic Services Dr. Angelina Dayton, showcased how virtual reality technology helps her classroom learn the Cherokee language.
“I think it’s important because it’s what the kids know and everybody keeps saying, ‘technology is the future of learning.’ I think we’re going to be doing some grant writing so we can get everything that we need,” Frogg said.
Showcased on April 20 was Dream Warriors Management, a group of Native artists who uplift others with their creative talents. It consists of poet Tanaya Winder, as well as hip hop and rap artists Frank Waln, Mic Jordan and Tall Paul.
They answered questions about projects that inspired them and when they decided to pursue their passions full time before concluding with performances at the NSU Jazz Lab.
Winder, a Southern Ute/Duckwater Shoshone/Pyramid Lake Paiute Nations citizen, performed spoken word poems from her two books “Words Like Love” and “Why Storms Are Named After People and Bullets Remain Nameless.”
She said the Dream Warriors are “stronger together” and set a “family” example for Indian Country. “Just all of us coming together is kind of like a map of what Indian Country is and can be when it’s at its healthiest, like family. I think just seeing us celebrate our differences is what makes Dream Warriors so successful because people can see themselves in us, and hopefully that empowers them to follow their own path, whether that be art or not.”
Waln, a Lakota from the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, followed performances by Winder, Mic Jordan and Tall Paul. His songs included “Born on the Rez,” “What Makes the Red Man Red” and “My Stone” with Winder. He said he hopes his success and that of his fellow artists will leave a “blueprint” for others.
“Hopefully it will leave some of the younger Native people here with somewhat of a blueprint on how to work together as young Native people to build something or our communities that will last past our lifetimes,” he said.
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) – Stephen C. has been taught only math and English at a U.S.-run elementary school for Native American children deep in a gorge off the Grand Canyon. Teachers have left midyear, and he repeatedly faces suspension and arrest for behavior his attorneys say is linked to a disability stemming from traumatic experiences.
The 12-year-old is among children from Arizona’s remote and impoverished Havasupai Reservation who are a step closer to their push for systematic reform of the U.S. agency that oversees tribal education, alleging in a lawsuit it ignored complaints about an understaffed school, a lack of special education and a deficient curriculum.
The students’ attorneys say they won a major legal victory recently when a federal court agreed that childhood adversity and trauma can be learning disabilities, a tactic the same law firm used in crime-ridden Compton, California. They say the case could have widespread effects for Native children in more than 180 schools nationwide overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Education and in schools with large Native populations.
“Education is our lifeline and our future for our kids – and all students, not just down here, but nationally,” Havasupai Chairwoman Muriel Coochwytewa said. The BIE has “an obligation to teach our children. And if that’s not going on, then our children will become failures, and we don’t want that.”
Havasupai students face adversity and generational trauma from repeated broken promises from the U.S. government, efforts to eradicate Native culture and tradition, discrimination and the school’s tendency to call police to deal with behavioral problems, attorneys say.
U.S. District Judge Steven Logan wrote in a late March ruling that the students’ lawyers adequately alleged “complex trauma” and adversity can result in physiological effects leading to a physical impairment. He moved the case forward, denying Justice Department requests to dismiss some of the allegations but agreeing to drop plaintiffs from the lawsuit who no longer attend Havasupai Elementary School.
Noshene Ranjbar, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Arizona, said medical literature has expanded in the past 20 years to include trauma that isn’t linked only to singular events.
In Native communities she’s worked with in the Dakotas and Arizona, “they agree the root of everything they suffer with is this unresolved grief, loss, trauma, anger, decades of disappointment on a huge scale,” she said.
When students act out, schools too often turn to suspension, expulsion or arrest instead of finding what’s driving the bad behavior, she said. Usually, it’s “a hurt human being that is using the wrong means to cope,” Ranjbar said.
The Public Counsel law firm pressing the Havasupai case also sued the Compton Unified School District – which is majority black and Latino – in 2015 over disability services for students with complex trauma. A judge said students with violent and traumatic pasts could be eligible for such services but didn’t apply the ruling to all who experience trauma.
The U.S. Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment on the Havasupai ruling.
Government attorney Cesar Lopez-Morales said at a hearing in 2017 that while trauma could result in a disability, federal agencies cannot assume every Native student with shared experiences is disabled. They would need specifics of individuals’ impairments and how those affect their lives.
He said attorneys also failed to show the students were denied benefits solely because of disabilities.
Havasupai Elementary School has three teachers for kindergarten through eighth grade on a remote reservation home to about 650 people and world-renowned for its blue-green waterfalls.
The village of Supai can be reached only by mule, foot or helicopter, making it the most isolated of the BIE’s schools in the Lower 48 states. The reservation doesn’t have a high school.
The students’ attorneys say the area is beset with high levels of poverty, unemployment, substance abuse, family violence and low literacy levels. All 70 elementary school students qualify for free or reduced lunch and most are limited in English and math proficiency, and have special education needs.
“What we know from the science is that, particularly unaddressed, the impact of trauma can impact the ability to learn, read, think, concentrate and communicate,” public counsel attorney Kathryn Eidmann said.
The lawsuit seeks to force the government to provide services for special needs, a thorough curriculum, culturally relevant education and staff training to respond to trauma.
Stephen C., whose full name is not listed in court documents, enrolled as a kindergartner but can hardly read or write now that he’s in seventh grade. His attorneys say he has an attention deficit disorder and experiences trauma from witnessing alcohol abuse at school and from his relatives being forced into boarding schools.
At one point, he pulled a plug out of a computer monitor and faced a federal indictment, the lawsuit says.
Some Havasupai parents have sent their children to boarding schools off the reservation rather than deal with inadequate educational services.
Stephen’s guardian has considered it, too. But he said in a statement that tribal members want children with them in the canyon, to watch them grow and be a part of the community.
OKLAHOMA CITY – A group of more than 100 female attorneys, also known as Girl Attorney LLC, on April 9 marched to the Oklahoma Capitol to stand in solidarity with public school educators who had been rallying for increased funding since April 2.
Girl Attorney sent a letter on April 8 to Senate and House members. The letter, containing 628 signatures, stated: “The purpose of this visit is to meet with members of the 56th Legislature to discuss their plans to fully fund public education in Oklahoma. Various stakeholders have proposed possible solutions, and we expect our elected representatives to be able to speak intelligently about the merits and potential pitfalls of each. We also expect that a representative who is ideologically opposed to a particular proposal will be prepared to present a detailed alternative. We are business owners and taxpayers ourselves; if there is a means of providing a quality public education to our children without increasing taxes, then we would love to hear the details.”
Among the group were several Cherokee attorneys, including Nikki Baker Limore, the Cherokee Nation’s executive director of Indian Child Welfare. She said she became involved after learning there were 27 children in his class to one teacher.
“For a teacher with no aide, no intern, no assistance whatsoever to have to handle 27 5-year-olds, it was like herding cats,” Baker Limore said. “That’s what began my looking into the public school system, and that was eye-opening for me back at the beginning of the school year. I felt compelled.”
She said she also sees how the lack of funding affects the 84 children attending public school while in ICW custody. She said it’s hard for those children, who sometimes deal with personal trauma, to receive individual attention, encouragement and redirection because of class sizes.
CN Assistant Attorney General Alayna Farris said she sought ways to contribute to education reform and answered the call to march to the Capitol. “I would like people to know that the teacher walkout was a selfless act done for the students. Years of education cuts have landed us in this situation. I know the many teachers I have had over the years directly contributed to my success as an assistant attorney general for Cherokee Nation. I would not be where I am today without public education.”
Cherokee Nation Business attorney Tralynna Scott also said she sees the struggles public school teachers face. “I get to see firsthand just how abysmal our school systems are now. There aren’t enough books. These kids can’t take books home in the evening to do their homework because they share books with other students. I just don’t understand how any expects them to really learn in that fashion.”
She said she got the sense that many lawmakers were playing the “blame game” and that they were backtracking on deals that were made and then repealed.
“Circumstances have changed, number one. Number two, the other thing that was on that deal supposedly, was the hotel-motel tax, which they turned right around and took off the plate. They repealed it. (Gov. Mary) Fallin signed that into that in law Monday, and in my world, in my legal world, if you make a deal, and you turn right around and don’t do part of that deal, that’s called breach of contract,” Scott said.
Scott said the representatives she spoke with supported certain exemptions but weren’t able to get their bills heard. “None of them are willing to start a petition to suspend the rules where they can bypass (House Majority Floor Leader Jon) Echols and get it heard on the floor. That would take 68 votes to suspend the rules. But I directly point blank asked them ‘will you start that petition?’ No,” she said.
She said Girl Attorney would continue advocating for adequate funding. “To the legislators, we are very serious. The entire state is very serious about changing public education, and if they don’t move forward with solutions then they will be voted out.”
MUSKOGEE – Northeastern State University is joining with universities around Oklahoma in its efforts to help working adults finish the requirements for bachelor’s degrees through the Reach Higher program.
Reach Higher is a flexible program that provides an adult student the opportunity to work full-time, have a family and complete a degree online. The curriculum is specifically designed to help working adults succeed in the workplace.
“Without this flexible and affordable option, many adult students would not be able to realize this lifelong dream of completing a bachelor’s degree,” Michelle Farris, Reach Higher program advisor, said.
In May, senior Shawna Glass will complete a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership through Reach Higher at NSU.
“I’m a single mother in my mid-30s, so I have to work during the day and be there for my kids and their busy schedules in the evenings. Traditional school was no longer an option for me,” she said. “The Reach Higher program has allowed me to still take care of my daily obligations while completing my degree online. My experience with the Reach Higher program has been a blessing. While it hasn’t always been easy, I have been able to reach my goal of completing my bachelor’s degree while still being able to work and take care of my children.”
Students who are at least 21 years old, have completed at least 72 hours of college credits or have an approved associate degree with a minimum 2.0 GPA and who have completed general education requirements can earn a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership.
For more information, visit <a href="http://www.nsuok.edu/reachhigher" target="_blank">nsuok.edu/reachhigher</a> or call Farris at 918-444-5034.
TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Phoenix peeked in on Sequoyah High School’s drama department as it rehearsed for its upcoming adaptation of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s musical “Into the Woods,” which musically tells the darker side of the classic fairy tales Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk.
“Into The Woods” will be held at the Sequoyah’s The Place Where They Play on the SHS campus.
Showtimes are 7 p.m. on April 26, 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. on April 27 and 2 p.m. on April 29.
For more information, visit <a href="http://sequoyah.cherokee.org" target="_blank">http://sequoyah.cherokee.org</a> or the Sequoyah Speech/Drama/Debate Students Facebook page.
TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Nation Foundation is accepting applications for its fifth annual ACT prep camp from June 4-9 at Northeastern State University.
The camp is offered to rising juniors and seniors and provides 16 hours of intensive ACT prep instruction, as well as college workshops focusing on admissions, financial aid, scholarship opportunities and time management. At the end of the weeklong camp, students will take the official ACT test at NSU.
All lodging, meals and testing expenses are provided by CNF, Cherokee Nation Businesses and NSU.
Applications will be accepted through April 21 and are available at <a href="http://www.cherokeenation.academicworks.com" target="_blank">cherokeenation.academicworks.com</a>.
For more information, email <a href="mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a> or call 918-207-0950.