This report is the result of an educational conference and interviews with residents of Wolf Point. These allegations have been filed as a complaint to the Office of Civil Rights.
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In November 2002, Iris Allrunner put out a national call over the internet for help with offenses that were happening in the school system in Wolf Point, Montana. Calls were made to the school and the staff made assurances that the complaints of Ms. Allrunner were from the past and that many of the problems she complained about no longer existed. However, in calls made to parents and visits to one of the schools it became clear that these problems were not only still occurring but were clearly remnants of the old Indian boarding school mentality. While the superintendent had assured me that he had never once received a complaint from a parent, parents gasped in amazement as one after the next told stories of not only reporting the offenses to the superintendent, but his inaction that sometimes resulted in further abuse of the student. Some employees of the school had stories to tell but feared losing their jobs while other parents told stories of abuse of their children that resulted in pulling them out of school. In the words of one mother, "They ruined my daughters life."
An Education Forum/Strategic Planning Conference in Wolf Point, Mt, was organized. The reservation-wide conference was co-sponsored by Wolf Point Community Organization Education Committee and Ft. Peck Tribes Education Department. Iris Allrunner chairs the WPCO Education Committee. She and Dr. Joe McGeshick facilitated the three-day conference. The first day of the conference many spoke on the problems Indian children are having in Wolf Points three schools and recommendations were made that the schools become tribally operated schools.
On the second day, many community members that attended voiced complaints about the schools. During the course of the three day conference, and of the 88 Native parents/grandparents who attended the conference, the majority had the same question: Why are so many teachers recommending that their children be put on Ritalin? It was shocking to the extreme to see so many parents who had the same concern. The question then became, just exactly how many kids are now on Ritalin within the schools, and are the schools promoting abuse of the drug in order to maintain a bizarre control over the students.
Some parents said that psychologists were writing prescriptions for the medication without an MD.'s approval and without a physical examination or observation. These caretakers were very concerned, as their children had no past history of being unruly, hyperactive or having difficulty paying attention. Many had held out, but many did allow their children to be medicated. In several cases, the mothers wondered if they were obligated to do as the school asked and feared the possibility of losing their children if they did not.
The second concern that was addressed was the use of the Behavior Learning Center (B.L.C) and the padded room in the Northside Middle School and the Southside Elementary. To see photos of these rooms go to www.racismagainstindians.org/Education/WolfPointPhotos.htm
On Thursday morning Iris Allrunner, Delores Huff and myself went to see these areas within the school. It was only about 8:15 in the morning and school had not officially begun yet there were already two Indian boys in the behavior Learning Center. The description of the BLC is much more closely aligned with Iris's original complaint than with the description by the principal in the previous report which stated that children who sit in BLC are attended to by guidance counselors, parents and are given school work to complete. The principal originally described the BLC as a place where one could have quiet if they were having trouble focusing. She said that the BLC was used as an in-school suspension and that parents are always notified.
These two boys were deep into these cubicles, whose plywood walls were almost too high to see their heads from outside of the room and extended perhaps 4' back. The necessity of the depth of these walls was a mystery as the short desk in front of them was only approximately 18" deep, and the cubicle was too narrow for their chairs to be comfortably turned anywhere but forward or backward. There were no papers or work in front of the boys and they were merely staring at the wall immediately in front of them.
We asked the boys how long they had been sitting there, and they told us about 20 minutes. When asked how long they might sit there, one said, at least another 20 minutes, perhaps all day, they never knew. Remarkably, one of the boys sitting in the BLC was the son of Melissa B., who had been contacted in the original report and had asked to be called anytime her son was sent to the BLC. Previously, we were told that Melissa had not been called because the principal must have "spaced." At this time, the principal's door was closed so we were not able to ask her if the mother had been called at that time, so we walked down the hall to observe the padded room.
The padded room is at the far end of a hall, is about 10' by 10' and padded all around to about 4' high, with some kind of thinner padding above, although, without touching the material it is hard to determine what it was made of or whether it was padded or metal. The door is of thickly reinforced glass and is at least 2-3" thick for soundproofing. The lock on the door is substantial. It is doubtful anyone could look at that room without apprehension about its use. The padded room is in use in both the Southside and the Northside Schools.
Iris took a few pictures of it and we returned to the front office just in time for the principal to come out of her office. I asked her if Daniels mother had been alerted as to her son being in the BLC. No, she hasn't, the principal said and then demanded to know who I was. When she found out I was the author of the previous report, she insisted that I take a tour of the school so that she could paint a prettier picture than the one I saw. I wondered how it might be possible to convince me I had not seen what I had seen and how a "prettier picture" might possibly be portrayed. I promised to return at a later date as we all had to go on to the conference. Iris asked if she could take a picture of the BLC and the principal said she thought not, that she would rather have a picture taken that would portray the room in a better light. In fact, there was no way to portray the room in any other manner other than it was.
We went on to the conference and heard the story of a young woman, T. Y., whose 7-year-old daughter was placed in the padded room in the elementary school because her foot stuck out beyond the parameters of her desk. The teacher told T.Y. that the child needed to be on Ritalin. The principal insisted on visiting T.Y.s home to observe the way T.Y. interacted with her daughter and to see their living conditions.
This mother allowed the principal to come to her home, which was clean, drug and alcohol free. It is certainly questionable whether it was the principals place to impose herself on this family.
T.Y. took her daughter to a physician for an examination and to determine if she should be put on Ritalin. The physician observed the girl several times over three months. The ultimate decision by the physician was that the child did not need to be put on Ritalin, but that the teacher did not inspire good behavior in her students in general. When the young woman told the teacher she had seen the doctor, the teacher asked, "How many doses is he giving her?" The mother replied, "None." It seems so strange that a child so young, with no history of any disorders or disturbing behavior of any kind, would be recommended for Ritalin and sent to a padded room simply because her foot went outside of the boundaries of the desk. This can only be described as an abuse of a room that the school system insists is for special needs students.
That night, Melissa B. and her son Daniel came to Iris's house to discuss what had taken place that morning. Melissa said that Daniel leaves home every morning in a good mood. That morning, he had been "horsing around" with a friend and a teacher sent him to the BLC saying he was in a fight. He tried to explain they were just kidding around but the teacher wouldn't listen. I asked him to describe to me what being in the BLC was like, if he was given work, or saw a guidance counselor. His answer was, they only gave him work if he asked for it and they had never sent a guidance counselor to see him. He told me that when he was in the cubicle he couldn't see the clock and they wouldn't even tell him when lunch is. He says he's allowed to sleep, but only as long as he keeps his head up, so he showed us how he has learned to sleep with his head propped up by his elbows. His words were, "They break me down everyday."
In spending some time with him over two days, my opinion is that Daniel is an outgoing, happy and very respectful boy. He is also strong-minded and will not allow his spirit to be broken. As will be seen, it seems that this is the biggest issue that the school has with him.
The next day, Iris managed to contact a woman who is a consultant for the Office of Public Instruction (the equivalent of the State Board of Education) who happened to be in Wolf Point that day. Iris was able to convince her to come over to the school and see the padded room and the BLC. Again, cameras were brought in and the woman, who was horrified at the existence of such a room within a school, pointed out pictures she would like taken. As we took the pictures, the principal arrived and suggested that we not take any more pictures, however, we had determined that since the school existed through public funding we did have the right to take the photos. We were in a hurry and had to return the woman from the OPI to her appointments, and Iris and I agreed to come back and take the photos the principal wanted us to take.
When we arrived back, the principal was speaking to a policeman. He left and she asked us to join her down the hall as she had a student in her office. She began her tour of the school and the first thing she wanted to show us was a bulletin board that said Native American Role Models. On the board were 3 pictures of people, 2 of which were very light skinned. Iris did not recognize any of them as enrolled members of the tribe. One of them was blond, and the other was very fair. These were random people in the community who held no recognizable position to these children. The subtle message, as Delores Huff pointed out, was that the people to emulate are white or at least appear white. This was strange as this is a reservation school and 80% of the children are Indian.
We continued and I went into every classroom in the school. In only one of the classrooms in the entire school was there anything of Native culture displayed. To its credit, that room was chock full of Native references and was surely the result of a teacher who was sensitive to the fact that Native children were by far the most dominant group of children in the school. There were Native teachers aides in some of the classrooms, and they were stationed in the back of the room in most cases.
We went into the library, which was dark and empty. The principal explained that the library is extended to the students twice a week. There we did see at least some references to Native culture. The principal told us that the school had just received a huge grant for more library books, but when Iris asked if the books had been authorized by the curriculum department or the Indian Education Committee or even through the tribe, the principal's answer was no. We went on then into the counseling room to sit and ask some questions. We wanted to know who was put into the padded room, and under what circumstances. The principal assured us that the room is seldom used, and only by two specific children who were "special needs children". Just as she said that, a counselor came into the room with a boy and the principal announced, "And we're going to see that room used right now." She told us the boy had some disciplinary problems when he first came to the school, that he spit, hit, kicked, and swore. She said he was much better now than he had been, and that now he usually just swore. The boy appeared calm and friendly, in our presence, in no way did he seem out of control nor did he display any examples of anger. It is interesting to note that we had, within the last ten minutes, gone through every classroom in the school (approximately 10 classrooms) and had seen nothing in any classroom that might have seemed a situation that would soon call for the use of a padded room.
We asked the principal how long he would stay in there and what he might have done to provoke being placed in the room. She promised to let us know. She told us that he would be in the room for ten minutes but that if he was ready to come out earlier, he could. However, Iris was watching the room, and after 6 minutes he asked if he could come out and the woman who was supervising him said that he had "Four more minutes" that were left. We turned to leave and I said that I would like to take a photo of the BLC and the principal said no. She said I would put a negative spin on it. I then handed her the camera and said, "Then you take it". The principal took my camera, went into the room and shut the BLC door on us. A minute later she emerged from the BLC and handed me my camera.
Iris and I went on to the conference where several parents and children talked about their experiences in the school. Shortly after we arrived, Melissa B. came in with her son, Daniel. Apparently, early in the morning, the students in Daniel's class were given a sheet to fill out about diabetes. The pictures were of very stereotypical Indians, twisted feathers on headbands, some looking crazed, some salivating over food, and Daniel was offended by it and said he wanted to show his mother. He was sent to the office and was in fact the boy that was sitting in the principal's office while she was giving us the half-hour tour. Daniel said he asked the principal if he could call his grandmother Iris and she refused to let him. At that time, she knew Iris was in the building. His mother was not called until our tour was over and Daniel said he knew Iris was in the building because he heard her voice and the principal sat him behind her door so no one could see him.
Melissa told the principal that Iris could be called to pick Daniel up, and the principal did not stop us to let us know we could take him. In fact, she was alleged to have wrestled the phone away from Daniel and did not allow him to finish his conversation with his mother. When I spoke to Daniel, I asked him why he had been told to leave school. He looked surprised and said, he didn't know. I asked Daniel if he had seen children in the padded room and he said, yes, every day. I asked if he could provide me with the names of some of the children he had seen in there. He said, yes, in fact he had been put in that room, as had a boy by the name of Josh M., Brett M. and his brother Paul. Josh moved last year to Miles City.
Another Native boy by the name of Stanley L., age 17, told horrifying stories that occurred before his mother removed him two years ago. He had a teacher by the name of Susan B. who is still teaching in the classroom, who punished him for breathing too loud (he has asthma) or whispering, by forcing him to extend his hands and slapping his outstretched fingers with a ruler or slamming the desktop down on his fingers. He told me that she would often say, "It's the only way those kids learn. " She also drew a circle on the board and they would have to stand with their face in the circle, in front of the class, and if they moved, they were sent to the BLC.
He told me that when he was first in the Northside School there were more Native teachers and aides but they all left or were fired. His words were, "They were pushed too hard."
Another teacher, Josh H., also still in the school system, killed a litter of kittens right outside the school window, and left them with blood everywhere to the absolute horror of the children. The teacher was suspended for a few days. (We have since found that it was only one cat, and the circumstances of its death were unable to be proved in court, however, Stanley was in that class, and we respect the fact that whatever happened caused him trauma and has had an effect on the way he perceived it. Whether it was a litter of kittens or one cat doesn't seem to undermine the horror of what students might have experienced that day.)
Seventh grade teacher Mr. B., also still in the school system, humiliated children and never stopped the white kids from being mean to the Indian kids. One day, Stanley went into his class and sat down at his desk. The legs of his desk had been sawed and the desk collapsed under Stanley's weight, causing him considerable pain and his knee to bleed. The principal made him sign a release that he wouldn't file charges before he was allowed to call his parents, all the while in pain, feeling he had possibly broken his knee.
Stanley told me of a playset still in use at the Southside playground where a little girl had slipped and fell, hitting her head on rocks below the bars, causing her head to split open. She died three weeks later. Shortly afterwards, another child fell and split their head open too. To this day, that playset remains in use.
At the Northside Middle School, Stanley's 6th grade teacher told his students that unless they were dying or seriously ill, they could not call their parents and if they were sick, they were penalized by being sent to the BLC. During this time, Stanley developed pneumonia and could not breathe. His teacher would not allow him to call his mother, and told him he was making it up. He said he felt like he was going to die and the principal wouldn't let him call his mother either. After school, his mother took him to the hospital where he remained for two weeks with pneumonia.
I asked him if he thought the teachers were racist or just mean. He said most were mean, but about half were really racist. The white kids were mean to the Native kids and the teachers just let them. Or the Native kids would be sent to the BLC for minor issues like whispering while the white kids could kick each other and nothing would happen to them.
Stanley became the kind of casualty so often seen in the Wolf Point School System. He left school at 15 and his sister, at age 13, was also removed by their mother to be home-schooled.
A mother, who's name is withheld to protect her daughter, told me why her daughter had been removed from the school. A woman teacher, who is no longer with the school, was inviting girls to her home and sexually abusing them. When this parent found out, she went to the superintendent and requested that the teacher be fired. Instead, shortly afterwards, she was told that her daughter had been picked up by the police for disorderly conduct and that they had a suicide note from her. She was not called about her daughter being removed from the school and when she went to get her daughter and was shown the note, she knew that the note was not in her daughter's handwriting. The teacher who had abused the girl was threatening the girl and the superintendent did nothing to correct the situation. Ultimately, after the teacher abused three Indian girls, she was fired. However, the removal of the teacher does not absolve the superintendent from his responsibility for the abuse of these children in these schools after having been alerted. And the girl now suffers nightmares and anxiety and has an expected deep distrust of all white people. It is also interesting to note that the school has also never made any effort to help the girl continue her school work at home. This doesn't seem uncommon. Once the child is out of the school system, the system washes their hands of them. This is illegal.
After speaking with Stanley, Iris asked me to take several conference participants, who wanted to see the BLC and padded room, over to the school to show them the padded room and BLC. When we arrived, the principal told us we could not see the padded room as there was a student in it. This seemed odd since she had told us the room is rarely used and that there had already been someone in there that morning. We wondered if it might be the same child or another but due to confidentiality we were not allowed that information. The principal was quite distressed to see us all there and when questioned by the tribal members made a statement about there being a culture clash. This was interesting as no one had raised the issue of race. It was very clear that she was uncomfortable with having to deal with so many Indian adults.
She insisted to the tribal members that her methods of discipline were effective, but the question remained, effective to what end? To get children to remain in a padded room until their anger is no longer visible? If indeed there is a problem with anger, is this teaching a child the proper way to deal with anger management? Its seems instead that this school, between the Ritalin and the use of the padded room for offenses as small as swearing or putting a small foot in the aisle, is forcing these children to behave, as one woman said, like zombies. In other words, if the Indian children will not live their lives within the schools unrealistically small parameters for good behavior, they will be put into a box until they do. They are taught silence, they are taught to obey, and they are taught to do as they are told without having their voices heard, without any sense of fairness or justice, whether or not what they are being asked to do makes sense, or they will be confined or humiliated. And while we focused mostly on the middle school, it was clear these problems are also occurring in the elementary and the high school as well.
The principal announced to the tribal members that she felt she was being backed into a corner. It seemed equally likely that she was feeling quite unhappy at having been caught in so many lies all within the space of two days.
We were told the padded room was seldom used, and yet we found it being used twice within the same day. Daniel said that is used almost everyday, "We can hear them crying and hitting the walls, trying to get out. We call it, The Room Of Tears." And we were led to suspect that was closer to the truth. I had earlier been told in the original interview that the principal would call Daniel's mother whenever he was placed in the BLC, and upon our arrival the day before, she had not. In the earlier report, the principal had failed to call Melissa twice, saying she must have "spaced.". Yet even after being put on notice in the last report, she still continued to disregard the mother's wishes.
The principal told me that children in the BLC receive all kinds of attention and work and that it is a place where children can focus when they are having difficulty. Instead, we found two boys facing a wall, with nothing to do, and no one to speak to, with nothing in the range of their vision besides two high plywood walls and a wall only inches from their face. The feeling one gets in their stomach upon entering this room is disgust and pain for the children who really seem to be there for no other reason than to have their spirits broken.
An investigation into the amount of Ritalin being over-prescribed in these schools, is being conducted. I personally spent time with a child who was targeted for Ritalin use and found only a very bright child who was kind and shy. The grandmother was so worried, and wondered if she had to medicate her child if the school said so (the underlying question being, or will they take him away from me?) and yet another mother said that her child was now addicted to Ritalin, but the teacher refused to let the child leave the room to take his medication.
Delores Huff was most curious about the history of the padded room, how it came to be without the tribe's knowledge, where the budget came from, counseling, education, etc? Also, The principal told us the room was built to code and specifications allowed by law, but which law, how old is that law, is it for general school use or for severely disabled children? Is it authorized yearly and by what budget? So many questions that are difficult to answer and yet unquestionably, something is very very wrong at Wolf Point.
At the conference, as we were discussing options for change, someone complained that more parents hadn't shown up (about 88 did attend). One woman stood up and said, "People are tired of hoping. You know, when someone comes forward and says they can help, and gives us hope, and then nothing happens, nothing changes, and it happens again and again, well, they can't be blamed for losing hope." And with many of these people having had parents who attended the boarding schools in days gone by, there is still the very real and ever present threat that if they do not do what they have been told, they might lose their children.
Joyce Little Thunder, from the Rosebud reservation in South Dakota said it well when she wrote on the internet list-serve Rezlife that, "When Captain Richard Pratt established the Carlisle School for Indian Students, his motto was, "Kill the Indian, save the man". Going forward, Pratt's motto became the policy of subsequent Indian Schools, whether they were missionary schools or government schools.
To implement Pratt's experiment in civilizing Indians, critical thinking skills were not taught, nor was it encouraged. Indian students were told exactly how to think and speak. To question authority or to speak one's mind was forbidden. Pratt's philosophy was not confined to the boundaries of Indian Schools. In fact, it was the prevailing mind-set of most white people around reservation areas.
If an individual Indian dared to speak his mind or ask questions, he would be met with derision and scorn, his thoughts discounted. Indian students were punished severely for daring to articulate curious thoughts. Basically, the attitude was, "We speak, you listen", and Indians were made to feel stupid and inferior. So we shut up and never said a word."
This mentality is alive and well at Wolf Point.
There are many complaints by parents that their demands for information have been denied for years, and when the tribal members went to the Northside School and asked to be shown statistics that might show the benefit of using the padded room or the BLC, the principal first stated that she didn't know about those statistics, then said that she had them but couldn't divulge them due to confidentiality. When pressed that all we needed were the numbers, she finally said that she needed the support of the superintendent and the school board at a formal meeting before she would discuss them. One of the answers we were looking for was how many children placed in those rooms were Indian and how many were white. Unfortunately, these statistics are being withheld until a meeting on March 10 and everyone is wondering if the old protocol of avoiding the issue and withholding the information will continue.
Two years ago, several Ft. Peck Tribal Council members went before the school board to discuss their concerns about the fact that they are not consulted in structuring the curriculum, the discipline procedures or any aspect of student life. The school board, white but for one Native man, was rude, did not welcome them, did not extend their hands or themselves in any way, and the requests of the tribal council, many of which had traveled a long distance to attend this meeting, were completely ignored. A trip around the boundaries of the reservation and voting districts make it clear that gerrymandering is in place. It is impossible for the school board to reflect an accurate representation of the community which is overwhelmingly Native.
It is obvious that the white administration has decided what is best for the Indian people and their children and continues in the old boarding school fashion to carry out methods of discipline that are archaic and meant to break the spirits of the children. That the elementary and middle school grades are at least 80% Native and drop to roughly 50% by high school is a clear sign that this is a school system that is nurturing one group of students while alienating the Native students.
Frannie C., a mother of four children who are currently in the school system, worked as a School Resource Officer in the junior and senior high schools and witnessed many examples of overt racism within the schools. She states while it is now somewhat better than it was, there is still much that is wrong with schools. When speaking about the complete lack of Native culture
in the curriculum, she stated that, "Its like they are trying to weed it out of them." Her son complained that the structure changes at around 6th grade and that after that, the culture is not mentioned in the school anymore. She stressed how important it was to these kids, how they don't feel like they belong there.
Frannie mentioned several other instances when children are made to feel like they don't belong. She said she became uncomfortable working there because she witnessed the teachers treating the Indian students badly, and when she complained to the principal, he said, "Oh, they are just your pets." But in fact, they were children she didnt even know well, it just hurt her to see the Native children treated so disparagingly. She stated, "Indian kids are punished and their excuses are never listened to. The white kids get to explain and are treated with respect." She also said, "If an Indian kid gets into trouble, they act like helping him is a waste of time, while white kids are encouraged to do better."
Mrs. C. later worked for the tribal police and now is a city police officer. She said working in the schools burnt her out because she couldn't stand to see how the Indian kids were treated, that she never had a problem working with the Indian kids and felt many of the discipline problems the schools face is due to their treatment of the Indian children.
She heard a teacher say, "I can't stand that little fucker," in front of the child and other Indian children. When Frannie told the principal he didn't believe her. Frannie said a teacher would never have spoken that way to a white child. She told a story of a teacher, Mrs. S., who won't help Indian kids in the classroom. A white child struggled with a math problem and Mrs. S. helped explain the entire process to him. When Frannie's daughter went up to ask for help, the teacher gave her the answer. The girl then asked if the teacher could help explain the problem, the teacher said, "Figure it out yourself."
She told of a teacher, Mrs. W., who spins kids and jerks them by their shoulders, hollers at the Indian kids and does none of this to the white kids.
Frannie C. then went on to say that many of the reservations families are disadvantaged in some way. The only role models outside of the family that these children come into contact with are people who treat them badly and with a complete lack of respect or worth. The damage done to the self-esteem of these children cannot be underestimated. She also said that there were some teachers who were really dedicated and did do a good job, but that there were indeed many who were undeniably racist to the Indian students. She went on, "Everyone knows they keep the Indian kids in the school at the beginning of the year to get the head count for federal funds. But after that, almost no one cares about them." Her stories were many and while too many to be repeated here, they are no less terrible than has already been stated.
That there are so many reports from parents and children that Native children are picked on by both teachers and students without any support or anyone to turn to in their defense is not something that can be ignored. The emotional damage being done to these children, and by extension, their entire community by not hearing their demands for change and the elimination of techniques that were developed as a means to assimilate them cannot be underestimated. It is unconscionable to continue to allow these practices to go on. To walk past the BLC and see children lined up in a row, faces to the wall, mind numbed by lack of stimulation and with no respect for their unwanted opinions is to allow the horrors of the past to go on. The Indian wars are over. There is no need for children to be forced to obey blindly and silently when there is a Native way that would guide them otherwise. The schools absolutely must allow the Indian Education Committee within the school system to participate in the decision making processes of their own children.
The use of Ritalin must be explored. The very existence of the "syndrome" of ADD and ADHD has been questioned by medical professionals, and adequate studies have never been done to determine if the "disease" even exists. The use of such a medication allows the schools to say that these children are disabled, thereby legally excusing the schools from their obligation to teach these students and lowering the expectations of the students themselves and their families. It is also important to recognize that disabled students bring more money into the schools. This situation of releasing the teachers of their responsibility to teach these children combined with more money for the school creates a powerfully dangerous scenario for abuse that cannot be ignored. Studies have shown that those who take Ritalin are more than three times likely to indulge in illegal drug use, and Ritalin has also been implicated in all of the cases where children have walked into classes and opened fire. The use of the BLC and the padded room does not teach anger management, and in fact only teaches children to internalize their anger. This coupled with a drugs proclivity to make children more violent is a sure prescription for tragic violence to occur. It is past time for a full investigation into the practices of the school system in Wolf Point.
And it is also time to look for solutions. Jackie W., the new Nakona language teacher at the high school sees the schools as ripe for change. After teaching there for only one month, she sees in the Native students a hunger for their culture in that many of them come to her class when they have free time. She has tried to provide more for them than has been available by bringing in music and her husband is starting a drum group and teaching them to sing. She notes that there is a lack of self-esteem among the Native children but she is encouraging them to be strong in who they are and in their own culture. Mrs. Combs said much the same thing, that the children are craving their culture, and once a week is not enough to promote the kind of pride in their heritage that is needed to help these children thrive. In viewing the classrooms that are devoid of anything of relevance to the students there is a sense of a cultural wasteland that is not inspirational to anyone.
Jackie W. readily admits that the lack of cultural sensitivity to Native ways is a big hindrance to the Native children feeling good about themselves. She also maintains that there are some good and compassionate teachers at Wolf Point, but that even many of them do not understand the culture, and see it only through their own cultural reference. In the best of circumstances at Wolf Point, many of the good teachers are still judging the Native students as not fulfilling their ideas of who people should be. Because the students sense this, they are reluctant to go out for teams or for extracurricular activities. Jackie cites a video-tape that was made in the school and called for outgoing people. The Native children did not see themselves in that light and felt they shouldn't attempt to try out for it. But Jackie then made a video about Native culture and many Native students signed on for it. So it is clear that it is not just a matter of unwillingness to participate as the white teachers assume it is, but rather a feeling that they are not welcome to participate because these things are not relevant to them or their culture.
Jackie says she is trying to teach more of the culture, but so much more is needed and wanted by the students. A cultural class, taught to all who live on the Wolf Point Reservation, that is taught daily would do so much to make these children feel they mean something within the school. And a cultural sensitivity class, not a two-hour lecture but one that might be taught over a semester should be required of all teachers. Teachers and administrators who only see the world as right or wrong through their own eyes and culture have no place with the Wolf Point School system and must become culturally sensitive and several must be removed entirely. It is clear in the affinity that the students have for Ms. W. after only a month, that it is imperative that these children be given far more of their culture than has been their due so far.
Lastly, should there be such classes taught, in all grades, in all schools, they should reflect that which Native culture reflects. One parent complained that when they wanted Native culture taught in the school, they were admonished because the school saw Native ways as religious in that much is focused on prayer and a connection to life in a way that is not done in the white culture. This is a misunderstanding of the greatest magnitude. A religion is an organized group that gets together to worship in the same way at the same time, that believes in a set of rules and also that believes it's way is the right way, rarely leaving room for the possibility that there are equally valid ways to appreciate God. There is no religion in Native ways. It is not organized and it never proselytizes. Native spirituality is a way of appreciating all of the gifts that we have in this world. It is about being thankful, and respectful, and recognizing nature and how it sustains us. There are many ways of teaching values in the Native way without portraying a religion. Curriculum exists that can be used in a manner that promotes Native values and appreciation without forcing religion on anyone. Certainly, values are not, nor should they, only be reflected in religion. Who does not want their children to learn respect, community support and participation, and appreciation of our world? These things have been lacking from education, and in particular in the teaching methods in Wolf Point, for far too long and could benefit any child without influencing their religious decisions. In fact, there are many Native people who practice traditional Native values and other religions at the same time. There is no conflict.
White administrators must put their own assumptions behind them, take the time to learn who they are teaching, and perhaps even learn from their students a better way to proceed in life.
The "STAR - Students and Teachers Against
Racism" web site is the