Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Currents. Discussion »
CHICAGO "We need a liaison in Washington. There is already one who works with the tribes. We need a liaison to represent urban Indians. We need someone we can go to there to represent us," said Susan Powers, Standing Rock Lakota, who has lived in Chicago since 1942. She was only 17 years old when she arrived. Today, she is a revered elder in the Chicago American Indian community.
Joyce Silverthorme, Salish, director, Office of Indian Education and
William Mendoza, Lakota, executive director, White House Initiative on
American Indians and Alaska Native Education
“We have to figure out how we can bridge the rift between urban Indians and reservation Indians,”
Powers commented after the meeting.
“We deserve proper attention in the urban setting.”
Mrs. Powers was speaking beforet the US Department of Education's Urban Native Education Learning Session held yesterday at the Chicago Public Schools' board chambers. She was among the American Indian parents, students, researchers and educators who participated in the learning session. Most who participated were from Chicago, though two American Indians from Wisconsin were also there.
William Mendoza, Lakota, executive director, White House Initiative on American Indians and Alaska Native Education and Joyce Silverthorme, Salish, director, Office of Indian Education were there to learn more about the needs and recommendations to improve educational opportunities for Native students in the urban setting.
The Chicago learning session was the 18th such meeting that included consultations that have been held throughout the country since 2010.
Last December, President Barack Obama released Presidential Memorandum and Executive Order 13175, "Improving American Indian and Alaska Native Educational Opportunities and Strengthening Tribal Colleges and Universities," which directs government agencies to develop a plan of action for providing regular and meaningful consultation and strengthening of government to government relationships with Indian tribes.
The Initiative is charged with the mission to "help expand educational opportunities and improve educational outcomes for American Indian and Alaska Native students, including opportunities to learn their Native languages, cultures, and histories "
Dr. Dorene Wiese, Ojibwe
“This is the first time people are listening to us. I have tried to talk to people in Washington about the needs we have here and they really did not pay attention.”
Stated Dr. Dorene Wiese, Ojibwe, president of the American Indian Association of Illinois, who has been involved been in American Indian education for the past four decades.
“Since the 1970s, there have only been three or four years that we received funding. Then it went away. Zero funding is not enough,”
continued Dr. Wiese.
During the 1950s, the federal government implemented the Urban Indian Relocation Program that moved American Indians from reservations to cities, such as Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Detroit.
“Chicago is home to more Indians than most reservations have,”
said Dr. Wiese.
“Unfortunately, we don't get the funding reservations get.”
Dr. Wiese provided on overview of the history of American Indians in Chicago and current issues faced today by the American Indian population.
There were 26,933 who identified as American Indian on the 2010 Census in Chicago proper. This figure does not include the metropolitan area, which when included, the number is closer to 100,000, according to American Indian leaders in Chicago.
Several of the speakers who made testimony yesterday spoke about the importance of ensuring the culture is part of what American Indian students learn within the public educational system.
Dr. Amy West, Southern Cheyenne
“We need to integrate wellness and health into what students learn. It is part of our history and who we are. I believe this is one area where we have a real opportunity,”
said Dr. Amy West, Southern Cheyenne, assistant professor of clinical psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and former board member of the American Indian Center of Chicago.
Other speakers spoke of the conflict between living in Chicago and the connection they have with American Indian culture.
“Growing up, I had the opportunity to go back and forth to the reservation where I was able to learn my American Indian culture,”
said Debra Yepa-Pappan, Jemez Pueblo/Korean, who grew up in Chicago and currently works for the Chicago American Indian Education Program - Title VII.
“It is so important for Indian children to identify with their culture.”
“I don't think we need to view being an urban Indian as a deficit,”
said Lori Faber, Oneida, research assistant in the education department at the American Indian Center of Chicago. She talked about how the Native garden outside the Center that allows the American Indian students to learn about how plants were used by their ancestors.
“Once we get out our recommendations and are ready to implement our plan, we will be back here,”
said Mendoza as he concluded the session.
posted June 9, 2012 6:00 am edt
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