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Looking Beyond Ourselves with “Seeing Our Native Students”

October 3rd, 2021

Human beings are creatures of habit. We complete our tasks and routines. We chat with our personal circle of friends, family, and coworkers, finding comfort in what is familiar. But what happens when we take a moment to look beyond what is familiar? When we put ourselves in new situations, participate in unfamiliar activities, or consume media or art made by people we don’t often consider, we begin to understand that there are entire communities, movements, and systems that exist parallel to our own lives.

They say that it’s hard to unsee something once you’ve seen it. At Redbud, we hope this is the case. One of our major goals as an organization is to help non Native people see and understand that Native people exist in every single community in the United States. We hope that these same non Native people, with their newfound clarity of vision, will be moved to learn, collaborate, and uplift Native peoples in meaningful ways. Because once you know that Native people exist, that Native people create, thrive, struggle, and learn in the same communities that non Native people do, it is no longer ethical to ignore Native existence in daily life.

“Seeing Our Native Students: A Guide for Educators” and "Seeing Our Native Students Video Guide" are tools that bridges the knowledge gaps between Native and non Native peoples. The guide addresses the issue of cultural erasure of Native peoples, and provides basic background information for non Natives who want to better understand Native identity.

For example, did you know that many Native people are dual citizens of both the United States and the Native nation of their tribe? Or that there are hundreds of Native nations that operate separately from the United States, that have their own governments, economies, judicial systems, and more? Did you know that Native people often do not look like the stereotypes you might see in the media? Or that racial stereotypes of Native people permeate every sector of American life, and that these stereotypes actually harm Native people? “Seeing Our Native Students” explores many of these difficult and nuanced topics, plus many others.

While we believe these guides are helpful for all people, there are elements of the guide that are specifically geared towards educators. In fact, we provide dozens of concrete ways that educators, administrators, and school leaders can shift their practice to better serve Native communities.

Why does this work matter? Why should non Native people learn about Natives? Remember, every single inch of land in what is now the United States represents the ancestral territory of Native peoples. American schools, neighborhoods, and businesses, are located in places that were once cared for by Native people. The Native relationship to this land runs deeper than many can imagine. And yet, these same people now experience the highest high school drop out rates, the highest rates of diabetes, coronary heart disease, and death by suicide than any other comparable group. The people who stewarded the land for millennia, and who were forcibly removed from that same land in the name of democracy, face immense challenges, while American cities continue to grow. It is the least that non Natives can do to learn, recognize, and uplift Native people however possible.

We know that “Seeing Our Native Students” is just one tool of many that teach about contemporary Native existence. We plan to update and improve the guide as we receive feedback from the community. While this sixty-something page guide offers a small glimpse into Native reality, it is by no means comprehensive; we would need thousands of pages to cover everything! For now, it is a start to what we hope is a much bigger project!

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