U.S. Education System: Destroying the Beauty and Cultures of American Indian Men?

April 21st, 2012  |  Published in Community, Culture, Education

Education…The Right Place for a Native American Man?  By Lance A. Twitchell, The Huffington Post

University of Alaska Southeast Professor Lance A. Twitchell

Osiyo. Professor Lance Twitchell is from the Tlingit, Haida, and Yup’ik native nations. He speaks and studies the Tlingit language, and creates designs that reflect his rich cultural background.He is an Assistant Professor of Alaska Native Languages at the University of Alaska Southeast, and has written several books of poems and short stories.
Recently he wrote an intriguing article that discusses how the American education system fails the American Indian Male. Lance points out, “they are depicted as “angry abusers, savage killers, stoic bare-chested beasts, and one-with-nature kind of guys” take your choice. Although most of these stereotypes are media driven, many American Indian men face disturbing problems within the education system…and are walking away in defiance.

In recent discussions with colleagues, the topic of Native American men has come up a lot… things are looking pretty bleak for education in Indian Country, especially for the men…the problem is the system. I think back to my days at the University of Minnesota. I took an Intro to World History class that probably had 300 students… I was seated near the front of the class, and the professor was lecturing about the formation of populations in the Americas. What he said struck me as incorrect, placing Native American history entirely within the land bridge theory which he said dated back to about 5,000 years ago. I raised my hand, and when called upon, told him about Tlingit oral traditions: we come from the South, we came up to the interior and then down to the coast of what is now Southeast Alaska about 10,000 years ago. He said, “weʼre not here to talk about that” and carried on with his version of the story. It was a matter of power. He had the position…not one person in the room seemed to care about any other versions of history. So I decided I wanted his job. But I know that many others would want to walk away. 

Sitka Totem Poles-The Sitka National Historical Park. Photo credit Northrop and Johnson

The role of the Native American male is incredibly complicated these days. The most violently treated demographic in America is the Native American female, and so the most powerless just may be the Native American male.   The other week, a student of mine was passing me on my way to class and stopped to talk. He was upset about one of his classes and the way Alaska Natives were talked about.  According to him, the teacher was basically saying that if you are born Alaska Native, you are born with disadvantages. He had never felt bad about being Alaska Native until that day.

On top of that, word has made it back to me that classes and programs that focus on Alaska Native issues and languages should be paid for by Alaska Native tribes and corporations (as if Microsoft pays for computer classes or the Crown pays for composition). These are telling signs that the door is not open yet for an indigenous consciousness in higher education…

The classroom must become a different place if we are going to move away from mono-linguistic and mono-cultural mechanisms that destroy indigenous cultures and languages.

When a Native American man walks away from a classroom, it is probably an act of defiance, turning away from a system that rejects, demeans, ignores, or incorrectly represents what that man loves the most: his people…”

Read this article in its entirety, and share your thoughts with us!

Lance Twitchell as Troubled Raven. Photo credit Lance Twitchell site.

In our language, we call a warrior xʼéighaa kháa, which means a true person, because the term comes from a place of strength, protection, and sacrifice. ~Lance Twichell~