N.C. - A Lumbee college professor called on Native educators at
the National Indian Education Association convention here to return
to tribal tradition in educating Native children and youth.
Wilkins, professor at the University of Minnesota (and Indian Country
Today guest columnist), explained during a keynote address that
Native educators need to get away from coerced education and implement
a more liberal but traditional instruction for Indian children.
is about respecting the autonomy of each single human child and
trusting that child with the right to choose and study those subjects
that he or she is most hungry to learn," Wilkins said. "I
am convinced that our tribal ancestors understood this intuitively
and worked with it institutionally."
back at his own childhood, Wilkins noted that he went to a military
school as a youngster. "I got my early schooling in a very
strict military school," he said. "I later went to public
school in Robeson County, ninth grade through high school at a largely
segregated Indian school."
said his wife, Evelyn, who is Navajo, "was practically raised
in a much harsher and more coercive indoctrinating world of federal
Indian boarding schools on the Navajo Reservation, where if you
were caught speaking Navajo, you got a severe beating and other
forms of corporeal and emotional, psychological, spiritual terror
and abuse, usually inflicted by other Navajos who were following
federal rules and regulations."
felt that children in the U.S. have the worse status of all people
living in the country. "There is an alarming high number of
poverty among young people," he said. They live in "poor
housing, inadequate health care, substandard schools, and high levels
who is co-authoring a book with Vine Deloria Jr., a Native scholar,
historian and author, mentioned that he read hundreds of court cases
for his research. "I have been left quite disturbed."
conclusion he has drawn from his research are the following:
child protective services received over 3000 reports of alleged
U.S. Constitution provides no rights for children.
face compulsory education throughout their formative years.
have absolute power over children in all aspects of child rearing.
lack property so they are politically powerless.
are underage and cannot vote. "Lack of this power prohibits
them from defending the rights that they have."
are seen in the future and not in the present. "Such a futuristic
orientation denies real significance of the current child's
rights or interests or need."
are treated as immature and incompetent, yet many courts treat
them as adults.
explained, "In short all children, including Indian children, face
perpetual physical, socio-economic conditions that leave them more
vulnerable to the societal and parental powers more than any other
group in our nation or the world for that matter."
federal government treats American Indians like parents treat their
children, Wilkins said.
is hope, he explained, where children have gained some rights in
the last few decades. "They still retain the status that makes
it difficult for them to protect themselves from the very forces
whether it be the media, local, state, tribal or federal governments,
or parents, or teachers."
said, "Each child should have the fundamental right, a constitutional
right, whether it's a tribal constitutional right, federal
or state constitutional right. It's time we made our constitutions
have our children's rights in them so they can engage in those
experiences that he or she is most anxious to explore, because it
is having the right to choose that is truly indigenous to the democratic
explained that American Indian ancestors allowed children to develop
without coercion, and often children have lead tribes to survive.
"Survival of our nations depended on our children's activities,
skills, knowledge and acts of bravery.
is a time in each of our nation's history, where strength,
innocence, vitality, and knowledge of children and young people
played a crucial role in our very integrity, surviving."
said that before the federal schools, Natives respected their youth
and taught them by example.
research revealed some definitions of education, he said. One of
them is "building a series of experiences that is specifically
tailored to the needs and interests and desires of each child."
is "education is the whole system of human learning within
and without school walls, which molds and develops human personality.
It's all about the development of each individual child's
unique personality. Fitness for the world. That's it.
am convinced that if we look deep into our respectful tribal pasts,
we can identify those ideas, values, instructions, and institutions
that enable our culture to thrive.
important, I believe, is that we as parents, as teachers or staff,
whatever level, must look deep into each of our children's
eyes and souls and ask them what it is they want to learn.
must return to the level of trust our ancestors had with their children.
children can lay out an appropriate agenda for what they desire
that will make education and learning exciting process and experience
that it should be.
us boldly implement what our ancestor practiced and take the time
to bring forth the knowledge, values, ceremonies, social and political
institutions that bring out the spirit of every human child, no
matter what age."