Indian Country is Calling 

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At the November meeting of the CES N8tive Education Practices Professional Learning Community (PLC), co-facilitators shared their personal experiences in seeing Thanksgiving Day in a fundamentally different way. The myth of Thanksgiving is problematic, as it erases the Wampanoag historical view of the emergency landing in 1620. The National Day of Mourning, commemorated on the 4th Thursday in November, began in 1970 when Wamsutta Frank James, Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) was asked to deliver a speech to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the Commonwealth. He spoke the truth, and the speech was suppressed. For that, the National Day of Mourning began. 

On November 23rd, 2023 all are invited to join in marking its 54th anniversary, as the multitude of Indigenous Voices, Allies, and Advocates gather on Cole’s Hill in Plimoth Patuxet MA to protest the myth that is Thanksgiving. “National Day of Mourning honors Indigenous ancestors and Native resilience. It is a day of remembrance and spiritual connection, as well as a protest against the racism and oppression that Indigenous people continue to experience worldwide.”  – United American Indians of New England. Indian Country has wisdom, and with the group work in the PLC, facilitators José Lugo and Itza Martinez seek to collaborate with and learn from Native People of the region about Indian Country. Through demonstrations of what Native communities/ partners/culture keepers have shared regarding multicultural teaching and learning, they are working to help teachers begin to decolonize their educational practice, and emphasize awareness and understanding of the Original inhabitants of the region, their relationships to the land, and new ways to think about educational practices. The N8tive Education Practices PLC does not speak for any Original People, and the facilitators acknowledge that nothing can be undone to rectify and correct the traumatic disruption of the lives of Original People through Colonial and American education practices of assimilation.

José Lugo is quietly eloquent as he introduces a fundamentally different way of seeing the Thanksgiving Day tradition to a group of gathered educators. His reflection about shifting holiday traditions to recognize and honor the true histories of Indigenous peoples was one of the many shared by educators during the recent meeting of the PLC. José is the Native Education Liaison/Curriculum Development Specialist at the Collaborative for Educational Services (CES), and he is joined in the facilitation of the ongoing PLC by Itza Martinez, a Research Associate at CES. Itza has been an educator in diverse settings for many years, and her work at CES is focused on collaboration, leadership, critical dialogue, and social justice in curriculum.

José’s role as Native Education Liaison/Curriculum Development Specialist is a new one at CES, and has grown directly out of his work in the region, and from the organization’s commitment to pursue the work of decolonizing curricula. José has taken a lead role in reminding his colleagues throughout the organization that their land acknowledgement is a beginning, not the journey itself. Says José, “We as an organization are capable of alternative ways for practicing inclusion. Our social justice work is what gives hope that CES will consider, develop, and model changes that will benefit Native people of the region. A land acknowledgment has no meaning and no value to any Native person if there is no action behind it.” 

The Mashpee Tribe Education department and the Native Education Council have included CES in their work to connect with Native students. And while CES is working to raise awareness of equity and inclusion for marginalized students, the agency has  learned through that work the dangers of a single story. José is careful to note that CES’ contribution is to learn from and support the work of our partners in the Indigenous community, and his own work serves and provides support as requested by Native Entities (American Indian/ Alaskan Native federal & state tribes) and individuals for consultation, technical and curriculum development assistance. “We are humbled to partner with the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Education Department. Although a partnership, CES has taken this experience as a time to step back and learn from the tribe, rather than lead, and we are extremely grateful for that opportunity.” 

As a process, he notes, colonization has not ceased. Its essence is found in contemporary teaching practices intended to be inclusive and equitable, but unable to reckon with the gap that exists between Native learning and teaching practices and k-12 teaching practices. The educational system’s traumatic history and participation in the erasure and genocide of the Original Peoples of this continent needs acknowledgement on a systemic level, before we can pursue the goal of equity, and teach from a place of honesty, accuracy, and authenticity that challenges myths.

We will begin, he says, by recognizing that we don’t really know how to do this work, and that we support an industry that does harm to Natives despite our most thoughtful intentions. At its best, this work can aspire to make progress in centering Native voices in the education industry, but only with their direct guidance and involvement. From there, José hopes to learn, inspire, and create greater awareness of the importance of shifting our perspective in order to move in respect for and with the First Nations descendants of the occupied land we live on. 

As a People, Indian country moves forward as always with the spirit of the ancestors, their legacy, and their way-of-being.

Learn more about the N8tive American Education Practices PLC on the website.

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