O’siyo. For those of you not yet familiar with Gyasi Ross, he is a member of the Blackfeet Nation/Suquamish Territories, and also a frequent contributor to Indian Country Today Media Network. In his own words, he is a Dad, Author, and Attorney (we added the “Good Guy” part). His latest contribution provides wonderful insight and advice for young Natives leaving home and attending non-Native colleges for the first time.
Leaving the Rez: Eyeryday, Modern-Day Assimilation (for Kreestal) By Gyasi Ross, ICTNM
“Quick Story: I was on the “Indian Plan” on my journey through college, attending (seriously) six schools before finally graduating. I basically went everyplace that I could go for free, or alternatively, for really, really, REALLY close to free. I ended up going to four “mainstream” schools (two universities and two community colleges), and two tribal colleges. After college, I attended Columbia Law School (good gawd knows how they let me in after my vagabond undergrad experience). All in all, I attended five non-Native schools, and lived off the rez for about eight years of my life. In hindsight, I think about that time in those non-Native schools and also living off the rez. I suppose I’m old enough now to have a bit of objectivity about that time in my life. I noticed certain themes and commonalities at all those schools—not good, not bad—just themes.
I had to be the “official” spokesman of ALL things Native. As SOON as any question, statistic or the word “Native,” “Indian” etc came up, all eyes turned to me. I didn’t mind—I’d give the requisite disclaimer, “All tribes are different, blah, blah, blah…”—yet try to answer the question as best I could. It was actually a blessing—it made me learn MORE about myself and my people and where I come from. I didn’t wanna pretend that I knew stuff simply because I was Native (I’ve watched many do this—speak blindly on behalf of their communities). Still, this was a definite theme. “Indian question? Ask the Indian guy!”
“Another consistent theme, at these non-Native schools, was a curiosity about how I made it away from the rez. This was interesting—I knew that the people asking the questions had good intentions; they weren’t asking in a malicious way. But there are two implicit messages in this question, and these are sneaky and ugly: 1) that the reservation is this place that needs to be escaped from, like a black hole, lest all hope and potential be sucked away. 2) That I was somehow different than the other people on the reservation because I was resourceful and smart enough to sneak away from the reservation’s destructive power.”
Why Am I Telling You This?
“Well, it’s just something I’ve been thinking about. I speak at a lot of colleges and universities and students oftentimes ask me what I think about education. PLUS, it’s squarely on mind because my niece Kreestal just got admitted to a very, very prestigious university. That’s cool—she’s a beautiful, brilliant kid (as are ALL of my nieces and nephews, by the way)—my family doesn’t really have a history of academic success and opportunities. So that’s a big deal. Her and I talk about this stuff. I know that there are a lot of those Ask the Indian girl moments coming up for her, as well as a lot of questions about how she made it away from the rez. Fortunately, she’s very well grounded in her community and family, and I know that she won’t provide the fodder that they’re asking for.
I tell my niece Kreestal (and the other students who I interact with) that a little bit of strategic assimilation can be good. Learn the mechanisms, the systems. Come back. That’s positive… However, education can also be a negative thing to Native communities—it can be a tool to take away many of the talented people from our homelands. When Native people go away from the rez for education, and then ACT like they really did escape—they don’t come back but instead just live in middle class splendor away from their homelands. That’s called a “brain drain… Love you Kreestal. Congratulations.” Read more of this wonderful article here…
“To wit, when Native people get educated for the purposes of contributing BACK to our precious Native homelands and people, then education is good. Then assimilation is a necessary evil—Go away, gain knowledge of how to help contribute and improve our communities. Come back. Strengthen the community. Positive. Use that assimilation for good.” ~ Gyasi Ross~
Kudos to Gyasi Ross for being such a positive role model, Dad, Author, Attorney, and all around good guy! Be sure to follow Ross’ column in ICTNM.
Tribes Assist Landslide Relief Effort With Personnel, Donations and Prayers Richard Walker, ICTNM
“As the death toll from last Saturday’s devastating landslide in Oso, Washington climbed to 16 and a heartbreaking 90 people remained unaccounted for, Northwest tribes stepped forward with donations, personnel assistance and steady prayer…On March 26, the Tulalip Tribes presented a check for $100,000 to the American Red Cross of Snohomish County and $50,000 to the Cascade Valley Health Foundation to assist with the relief effort in Oso. It was a gift of love, a statement that the Tulalip people understand Oso’s pain… The Stillaguamish Tribe, too, gave $100,000 to relief efforts, as did the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe, donating $5,000.” Read more…
“OUR PRAYERS AND THOUGHTS ARE WITH THE FAMILIES.” -TALKING FEATHER-