More Native American students in Montana say bullying is an issue at their school than their white peers. Sue Reynolds thinks a heavy dose of cross-cultural education could change that.
She and a team of Native American and non-Native collaborators are releasing a new online teaching resource this week that aims to foster understanding and respect through stories, Reynolds’ photography and poetry by celebrated Salish author Victor Charlo. Everyday Native goes live this week and Sue is here to talk about it.
NICKY OUELLET: Sue, thank you so much for joining us today.
SUE REYNOLDS: You're welcome Nicky. I'm happy to be here.
NO: You've created this online resource called Everyday Native. Can you tell me a little bit about what that is and how you came up with the idea for it?
SR: Its goal is to help heal racism by asking students to reflect on the daily lives of Native American youth, who have to walk in the two worlds of both non-Native and also Native life.
NO: Can you give me some examples of the stories and lessons that are included in Everyday Native?
SR: There's one really moving story and it's about Leo Kipp who was 8 years old when I spent an afternoon with him and his family on the Blackfeet Reservation. Leo wears his hair in a traditional three braid style and he also has light skin, and so that hairstyle and his light skin has made him the target of racial bullying. When his family lived off the reservation he was six years old and he was the target of this racial bullying. His classmates teased him about being a girl because of his braids and they also said he wasn't Native American because of his light skin. So Leo hit himself and he told his mother he wanted to die. His family then moved back home to the Blackfeet Reservation and Leo now attends a Blackfeet immersion language school and he's doing well. So some of the stories are personal. Others are history from a perspective that goes beyond mainstream narratives to show Native American experiences. So for example, to show how conflicts with the U.S. government and having Native Americans ancestors moved on to reservations still impacts Native American people today.
NO: There can be a danger when we're talking about Native Americans to kind of compress that experience so that it seems like if you're Indian, you're just Indian, and you're not part of a very specific tribe. And I'm wondering how you how you addressed that.
SR: There is definitely a stereotype or an idea out there in the general U.S. population that an Indian is just sort of one generic type of Indian, which is not at all true. I've become aware of that because I've traveled a lot because I've spent time with different tribal communities. When the teachers and students look at photographs or read the content that there are tribal names associated with that individual, that child, with a particular geographic area or a historic event or contemporary current story. And we've tried to do that throughout so that people understand this is a story about a Blackfeet family, or a Blackfeet boy, or something else is a story about a Salish family or a Crow family. That's very very important for people to understand that different tribes are different.
NO: For people who are using Everyday Native either in the classroom or maybe on their own, what do you hope they take away from it?
SR: Well I hope that students and teachers and parents who use Everyday Native can learn that it's important to get to know and respect people who look different. I have become very aware of how damaging racial bullying is for Native youth, for Native children, and what I've learned from the statistics as well as hearing the first-hand stories is that racism against Native Americans contributes to Native youth suicides that are about two and a half times the national average. And that's for youth ages 15 to 24, and so hearing those stories, and also there's just so much more bullying than there used to be with cyber bullying and all of that. I really felt it was important to do what I could with my particular skills to show the accuracy of what Native American lives and children's lives are really like on reservations. There's a lot of stereotypes out there and there's also a lot of ignorance. I think that that racism occurs because of ignorance and fear. I felt that a teacher's resource was very important to create understanding and respect between non-Native children and Native American children. And the other thing I should mention as well is that tribal communities on reservations are either poorly understood or they're invisible among most Americans, so there needs to be more more understanding more knowledge and more accurate facts about tribal communities.
Sue Reynolds worked with teachers, Native American families and curriculum developers to create Everyday Native. The website, along with lesson plans and discussion topics for students grades four through twelve, is now available online for free to be used by home educators and classroom teachers.