Perry Horse, a member of the Kiowa Nation and a national advocate
for the importance of education in American Indian communities,
gave a talk, "Identity Development in American Indian Students,"
March 31 on the UNC Asheville campus.
With an audience of 45 students, faculty, and community members,
he began with a story about Black Elk, a Sioux holy man. "Black
Elk was a healer a medicine man," said Horse. "During the
time of transition from Indian life to the new life, he had a dream.
In the dream, he transformed into an eagle and flew over the homeland.
He saw that Indian life was disappearing the buffalo were
gone, the rituals were leaving. A voice spoke and said 'You are
going to face a tremendous amount of difficulty. Put it away and
find a new strength.' For me that 'new strength' is education."
Horse, together with other Indian educators who also felt that
the "new strength" was education, founded the American Indian Higher
Education Consortium. Now there are 37 community colleges in the
system, they are all accredited, and are keys to the vitality of
sovereign nations and managing systems.
Horse was a Washington D.C. lobbyist in the 1960s when attorneys
educated him on the status of Indian tribes as sovereign nations.
"The lawyers told us about Article I, Section 8 which regulates
commerce with foreign nations and with Indian tribes," he said.
"They shared that we had the right to form our own governments as
sovereign nations and we did. Some of us are democratic, some of
us are theocratic. Now we run our own schools, health care systems,
everything. Sovereignty is the touchstone of Indian identity."
To Horse, that identity includes:
- How grounded one is in tribal language and culture,
- How one traces the lineage to ancestors,
- Whether one embraces a general philosophy or worldview that
derives from distinctly Indian ways old traditions,
- Whether one is officially recognized as a member of an Indian
tribe or nation by the government of that tribe.
"For me, being bilingual is a big part of my Indian Identity,"
said Horse. "If someone says something to me in English I
can hear and understand it in the context of American culture. Sometimes
I translate what was said into Kiowa and I hear the meaning in relation
to Kiowa culture. There is a deep value in being able to do that."
Trey Adcock, director of American Indian outreach and assistant
professor of education at UNC Asheville, underscored the importance
of Horse's visit. "I think just his presence on campus was important
as it continues to display the institution's commitment to serving
native students and provides an engagement opportunity for our Native
students with someone who has immense and broad experience in higher
education across Indian country," said Adcock.
"Dr. Horse's talk reinforced the need to work closely with the
community to put in place infrastructure including more native faculty
and curriculum to infuse the institution with a vision for recruiting
and retaining native youth," said Adcock. "In the closing remarks,
Dr. Horse underscored the future work for educating on issues that
are important to Indian people such as tribal sovereignty, economic
diversification and independence, education, poverty reduction,
and health care,"
Cara Forbes, a UNC Asheville alumna, said, "What I appreciated
the most about Dr. Horse's lecture was how he brought light to tribal
sovereignty and resilience. I think we need to have more discussions
that bring up the positive aspects of what it means to be Indigenous
in this day and age. It's a great way to begin moving forward into
a brighter future."
Horse concluded his talk by saying, "I talk to young people
about Indian time. They think it is short and 100 years is long.
But 100 years is short. We have to think in long time. Indians everywhere
are moving from dependency, which was forced on us by the federal
government for decades, to independence. The past is always there
as a guide to us. Just as Black Elk said, "put it away and find
a new strength.'"
Miles is the director at the UNC Asheville Center for Diversity