Our History: A Letter from Our Founders
Our great great grandmother Cordelia received no official education. She spoke fluent Konkow, could recite hundreds of stories and songs by heart, and knew her land like the back of her hand. Our great grandmother Mary attended boarding school. She wore a white dress and stockings to class each day, and spoke very little Konkow. Our grandmother Judy went to public school in San Francisco. She spoke no Konkow, only English. She had regular conflicts with her teachers over the way Native people were represented in the textbooks. “We aren’t all dead,” she said. “Yes, you are.” the teacher replied.
Our mothers assimilated the way they were meant to. They attended public school in the 70’s and 80’s, and wore the popular fashion of the day. Anything related to their Native identities was kept within the family, where it was safe.
Today, after generations of assimilation, millennial Natives like us sometimes navigate Western culture easier than Native culture. These things happen. Despite our grandmother’s efforts to bring our culture into our k-12 education (bringing baskets in to show the class, making fry bread for our friends), our Native identities were largely ignored, overlooked, and forgotten by our teachers, peers, and even ourselves. And the curriculum? Well, the most we ever learned about Native people in school was that we once lived in wooden huts, made arrowheads, and were graciously brought to God by the Spanish missionaries.
For Native people, and perhaps for many non Natives as well, our sense of identity is rooted not just in our experiences, but in the experiences of those who made us, who came before us, and those who will come after us. We may carry the trauma of our grandmothers with us, but we also carry their strength and ability to self advocate for our communities in spite of fear.
The reality is, our experiences as modern Native people have given us the power to grapple with and respond to an unignorable pattern. Native peoples, like our grandmothers, mothers, and even ourselves, are left out of conversations about issues that impact our communities and daily lives. Research now proves that this erasure can cause suffering that lasts generations.
As educators and health care professionals, we see this impact regularly. Native culture is taught almost entirely in the past tense. Few educators or program directors have any
understanding of the contemporary contributions Native peoples
offer in the fields of environmental science, literature, art, mathematics, politics, and other subjects. In public health, incoming healthcare professionals receive almost zero education on the disparities faced by Native peoples, let alone education about the benefits of Indigenous wellness traditions and practices.
This continued erasure of Native peoples is paired with a range of unsettling statistics: that Natives face the highest dropout rates in the nation; are disproportionately placed in Special Education programs; have the highest rates of diabetes, coronary heart disease, and obesity; have inadequate access to fresh foods, and suffer from the highest incidence of death by suicide. Would having increased Native representation in these spaces improve the way Native people are supported? We believe so.
For all the negative statistics, there are hardworking Native organizations and allies working to improve life for Native peoples. There are Parent Associations, Indian Health Clinics, Cultural Centers, and advocates at the local and state level working to address these problems. But it takes everyone, in all fields, to make sure Native voices are valued in every area of public life. Our firsthand experience as modern Native people has inspired us to create resources that support all communities in making an often erased population visible again. We hope our grandmothers would be proud.