Rhonda LeValdo in Native Condition. Discussion »
Rhonda LeValdo - Acoma Pueblo
Nothing made me more upset than seeing the article "Menominee Seventh Grader Suspended for Saying 'I Love You' in her Native Language" in the Native News Network last Friday. Just the mere mention of a student being punished for speaking their tribal language in 2012 does not seem real, but a regulation of the 1800s.
I work at a higher education institution that was seen as an "assimilation" factory for Native Americans. Haskell Institute (as it was known when it first opened in 1884) brought in young children from across the country to Lawrence, Kansas. The Bureau of Indian Affairs required "that all instruction in the off reservation schools be in English and that all conversation and communication between students and with the teachers should, be in English."
This was a regulation published in 1880. Never would I think that any Native student would ever have to worry about having to hear a rule like this. For those that didn't know of the incident, Miranda Washinawatok, Menominee, had been telling her classmate at Sacred Heart Academy in Shawano, Wisconsin how to say "Hello" and "I love you" in Menominee. A teacher overheard her, and told the seventh grader "how do I know you are not saying something bad?" Miranda was then benched for her basketball game for her "behavior". The school has since apologized to Miranda and her family.
Tribal language is vital for all our nations to survive. Language revitalization programs are being implemented so tribal nations don't have to be faced with these languages dying out in which one statistic says that 70 of the remaining 139 Native languages could fall silent in the next 5 years. The impact these programs have made is incredible with the Berenstain Bears being translated in Lakota, Apple computers and Ipads having Cherokee as a language option and with the United States seeing how important tribal languages were when they used them in war-time. A situation like this to hurt one of our kids, it shows the amount of history that is not taught in our American educational system.
They need to know how the language was beaten out of many of our elders, so much that their children never learned the language for that fear of them being hurt. This all happened in this country and so many deny the abuses, but it happened. Every student should be tested on and know about assimilation, the Wounded Knee's of all our tribes and the contributions of our Native Veterans.
I like to think that this incident however horrible has made an impact on Indian Country. These things need to be put out in the open, discussed and dealt with. I pray for Miranda and her family, as they are tossed into this firestorm that they know they have the support of many people across in Indian Country standing right beside them.
Rhonda LeValdo, Acoma Pueblo, is a current faculty member in Media Communications at Haskell Indian Nations University, and the President of the Native American Journalists Association. Her guest commentary are her own views, not necessarily those of the Native American Journalists Association.
posted February 7, 2012 6:30 am est
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