The attack last week on the U.S. Capitol was an attack on every peaceful citizen who believes in a representational democracy in which all races, genders, ethnicities, and creeds have a place at the table. I and others in my circle of relationships name the attack for what it is—an insurrection, fueled by white supremacy and fringe conspiracy theories.
Why am I, as president of the American Indian College Fund, weighing in on this? Because as an Indigenous person, I know that I and other Indigenous people owe our existence to the legacy of the incredible sacrifices our ancestors made so democracy and the United States could be built. To see the many sacrifices indigenous Americans have made throughout our history disregarded is traumatic.
- It was Native land that was taken for America’s founding.
- It was Native governance systems that served as the model for our Constitutional democracy.
- It was Native code talkers speaking our sacred Native languages—languages that had almost been destroyed at the hands of our own government— that saved democracy for the world from the threat of fascism during World War II.
- It was and is our young men and women that serve in the military to protect this nation in greater numbers per capita than any other racial or ethnic group that protect this nation.
- It was our people that traveled across this nation many years ago to the Capitol on the hill, to sign treaties that we still fight to have honored.
I feel the need to speak about this because our land, our forests, our rivers, our streams, our ancestors’ blood, our children, our cultures, our way of life, paved and continue to pave the way to the very democracy that is under assault by internal strife.
I certainly do not agree with everything this democracy does. I certainly know about the deliberate, deadly actions that killed Native people and took away their means of prosperity. I certainly understand the role of individualism and capitalism in this democracy that has eroded the foundations of communities for commercial enrichment. This does not mean that I do not value the safety, security, and well-being of all members of our society. While my focus and that of fellow tribal educators is on the prosperity and self-determination of indigenous people, we also honor that in a representative democracy we must all live together in supportive and collaborative ways. We must build community.
Despite all that Indigenous people have sacrificed, despite all that our ancestors and our families have suffered because of the legacy of racism throughout history, we believe in this country. We believe because this is still our land and we believe it is our sacred duty to protect it. And although we must continually fight to be full participants in this democracy, we do not shy away from the call to protect all our rights as citizens.
Without an adequate education, we cannot be good citizens. As a lifelong educator, I know that without education, what we saw happen last week and in the last several months is inevitable. Maintaining democracy, domestic peace, equity, and rule of law are impossible when citizens do not have access to civics education and to the skills needed for discernment and good decision-making.
A formal education provides students with a foundation for carrying out the responsibilities we all share when living in a democracy: critical thinking skills and a grounding in facts, science, and democratic values. Our education does not end when we leave the classroom, and this foundation gives people the tools they need to discern lies from truth, science from unfounded theories, and facts from propaganda. It is education that is the foundation of a vibrant democracy, because education gives people the opportunity to learn how to engage as citizens in a democratic country.
It is the duty of continued inquiry, study, and knowledge that are the foundation of a vibrant democracy. For indigenous people, inquiry, study, and seeking knowledge is our way of life. We know that without a true understanding of our nation’s history as well as an understanding of our inherent rights as people and our acquired rights as citizens, we will all continue to be vulnerable.
The College Fund’s motto, Education is the Answer, could not be more meaningful at this moment in time.
We must harness our collective will as citizens and we must change. We are at a turning point. We are in a pandemic, economic and racial inequity eats away at our nation’s stability, and climate change threatens our very existence.
I truly believe that education from infancy through adulthood is the foundation of good citizenship as indigenous people and for all Americans. It is only through education and the values of our ancestors that we can move forward. As the Lakota say, Mitakuye, we are all related.
I invite you to join me in our continued quest for all people to have equitable access to education to develop the critical thinking and inquiry skills that we all need to create peaceful dialogue and an engaged nation to live well upon Unci Maka, our grandmother earth.
As we seek a path of peace and prosperity please continue to support education, dialogue, and citizenship as we move forward to build a better nation.
Cheryl Crazy Bull (Sicangu Lakota) is the president and CEO of the American Indian College Fund
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