While the United States has tried to eradicate Indigenous people and cultures across Turtle Island, this Native American History Month and National Day of Mourning, we are proclaiming from the top of our lungs, Indigenous People Are Still Here!
Indigenous people, languages, and traditions have existed and thrived on these lands for millennia. Not only that, along with enslaved people, Indigenous communities were the first to resist and strategize against white supremacy in the making. As we confront the ways racism operates in our public education system, we are reminded of the vast knowledge that we inherit from our Native kin. Our vision for public schools that center relationships, honor our cultures, and foster youth’s self-determination is possible if we just turn to our Native communities for answers. We are honoring Native American History Month by reflecting on the Indigenous knowledge that has shaped us as movement leaders and our fight for racial and education justice.
Here are some of the teachings we are grateful for:
From Oakland to Long Beach, we occupy the unceded territories of the Ohlone, Chochenyo, Muwekma, Miwok, Tamien, Yokut, Tongva, Kizh and Acjachemen peoples. These lands have undoubtedly shaped us both physically and spiritually. Our neighborhoods have been the birthplace of so many dignified struggles, from Black Panther Party to the United Farm Workers and the Chicano Blowouts to the San Gabriel Rebellion. For many of us, the rich history of our communities has lit the fire in us to work towards a more just future.
The Seven Generation Principle
The Haudenosaunee people, also known as Iroquois, gift us the seven generation principle. This fundamental truth establishes that community members are responsible to their community beyond time, seven generations in the past and seven generations into the future. As the late Rick Hill Sr elaborates,
“If you ask me what is the most important thing that I have learned about being a Haudenosaunee, it’s the idea that we are connected to a community, but a community that transcends time.
We’re connected to the first Indians who walked on this earth, the very first ones, however long ago that was. But we’re also connected to those Indians who aren’t even born yet, who are going to walk this earth. And our job in the middle is to bridge that gap. You take the inheritance from the past, you add to it, your ideas and your thinking, and you bundle it up and shoot it to the future. And there is a different kind of responsibility. That is not just about me, my pride and my ego, it’s about all that other stuff. We inherit a duty, we inherit a responsibility.”
This principle grounds our vision for a racially just education system. When we enter strategic planning cycles or delegations with people in power, we call on each other to dream big enough for the benefit of those to come and also build on the lessons of our movement elders. We often consider, “Who are you bringing into the space with you?”, to remind us that our work is not about the people with power in a given meeting or a personal agenda. We bring with us those who’ve come before us, the students who went through boarding schools, school segregation, the school to prison pipeline, we bring our current youth leaders, those struggling with mental health issues, housing insecurity and family separation, and of course we bring the students who we have yet to know. The seven generation principle grounds us in our responsibility as movement leaders.
In Lak’ech, Hala ken, “I am you, as you are me”
This Mayan concept encapsulates our inherent oneness and interdependence. Our work is no exception to nature’s rule. As Farhad Ebrahimi explains,
“The biggest thing I’ve learned from nature is the importance of relationships. E.g. An ecosystem isn’t just a list of living things (squirrel, tree, bee, flower,): it’s the set of relationships between those living things (the squirrel lives in the tree, the bee pollinates the flower). In terms of organizing, this means that a given social justice movement isn’t a list of organizations, or campaigns, or even individuals; it’s the set of relationships between organizations, campaigns, individuals, etc.”
It’s true, we move and grow given the circumstances of our ecosystem. Or in the words of our brilliant strategy director, J Ishida, “We move at the speed of our relationships.” Youth leaders, staff, allies, coalitions, educators, administrators, we all depend on one another. As we move towards an education ecosystem that better cares and responds to the needs of Black, Indigenous, Youth of Color, it’s clear we need to collaborate.
It’s not surprising that our work has evolved into the Relationship Centered Schools campaign. This campaign recognizes that young people’s needs and gifts need more space and support to blossom, that school staff, too, need to be nourished to fullfil their roles, and that we must prioritize tending to our connection in order to move together. This principle is a constant call to be better for ourselves and all those we are inherently connected to.
This Native American History Month, we are grateful for our Indigenous and Native American kin past, present, and future. We are grateful to all our partners and collaborators working towards a future that honors our Black, Indigenous and Youth of Color. We call on all of us to consider, how has Indigenous knowledge shaped you?
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