All across the Lakota homelands our beloved children are preparing for the exodus back to school. Many are highly motivated to continue their quest for an education. Our students who are genuinely committed to receiving an education, no matter if they are in Head Start, Kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school or college, are looking forward to another academic year in the classroom.
Many of us encourage our young people to finish school. It used to be that you could find work even if you did not finish high school but times have changed. Now if you want to be considered for any kind of meaningful employment you must at least have a high school diploma or general equivalency diploma (GED) in order to apply for even temporary jobs.
Furthermore, despite the laws which require our students to remain in school until the age of sixteen or eighteen, there are many young people of school age on our Lakota reservations who have made the choice not to be in school. For these people, who have made a personal choice to remain uneducated, life will probably be a continual struggle for survival.
We desperately need our young Lakota people to become educated. Many of our people who depend on federal, state or tribal assistance for basic survival did not finish high school. It is a fact that some families have not worked at jobs for two or three generations. Is this the future we want for our great-grandchildren?
It is also a fact that some of our own Lakota people who serve in positions of power where they must make educated decisions did not finish school. How can you make an educated decision if you didn’t stay in school long enough to obtain the skills needed to read, comprehend and approve documents that will affect the generations which are still to come?
With all the opportunities we have to become educated, there is no excuse for not being able to read. And reading is really not enough anymore, one must also be able to comprehend what is read and have the skills to apply critical thinking to issues that must be decided on behalf of our families or programs or tribe. What we do today determines the quality of life for the next seven generations.
I have also learned that attaining a higher education does not guarantee anything. It is a fact that many of our own educated tribal members are overlooked when they apply for jobs on their own reservations. Many tribal members have stated that it’s not what you know but who you know when it comes to getting hired for a local job. Corruption is rampant in some areas of tribal government. I wonder if our young people see this and become so discouraged they make a conscious choice to drop out of school.
Sometimes the issue is even more complicated as there are students who are quickly discouraged from attending classes. I believe many of them are tired of being bullied while at school; so many of our beloved children are attacked on a regular basis while they are at school. It happens in the classrooms, restrooms, lunchrooms, hallways and outside of the buildings. If I were being threatened with verbal harassment or bodily harm by another person I sure wouldn’t want to go to school either.
But until the adults set the stage for the children they are raising nothing will change. When you are an adult bully you will most certainly have children, teenagers and extended family members who will mimic you. They will bully their peers and people smaller than them. There are tribal members living on my rez who are well known for their violent attacks on other people who cannot defend themselves. Violent tribal members are not the role models I want my grandchildren to imitate.
If you are a student I do not want to discourage you from attaining an education. Do not give up. A college degree is possible at any age. Nowadays many tribal members graduate from college when they have reached their thirties, forties or fifties. We all can continue to hope and pray that education will eventually mean something when it comes to tribal hiring practices.
So, our children will soon be in school working their little brains into an educated frenzy in order to learn the lessons associated with reading, writing, arithmetic, etc. Our most brilliant young people are in college continuing to learn so they can earn a piece of paper which will qualify them to work in a number of fields that are supposed to pay decent salaries.
The Lakota Oyate is in dire need of educated people to run tribal programs. Please stay in school. A college degree will open many more doors than a high school diploma!
Finally, I want to send my sincerest condolences to the local families who faced the sudden loss of their beloved child this week. There is nothing that can compare to the pain we suffer when a child in our Tiospaye leaves for the spirit world.
As parents and grandparents we have great hopes for our children and grandchildren to have a better life than the one we have lived. Often we depend on them to make the changes which we could not find the strength to make. Our young people are the future and it just doesn’t seem fair to us when they depart so quickly.
I always remember in my prayers the families who have lost babies, children and teenagers to sudden, unexpected deaths. Please know there are many people who are also remembering you in their prayers this week.
We can never see what is coming so make each day on earth a good one for those you love. Hold your babies, children, teenagers and other loved ones close to you. Don’t let a day go by without telling them you love them very much.