I have some distinct memories of middle school social studies. I was in the seventh grade when US History was taught, and I recall an anticipation of sorts—almost an excitement for what was to come. Surely the beginning of the class would explore American Indian tribes, and I expected more Native content throughout the class. I’ll admit it, I was naively optimistic, and I’ll also confess—I was hopeful.
Middle school social studies turned out to be the beginning of my provocative discourse with public school teachers. My expectations went unmet, although there was some Native content in the class—the first being the infamous Bering Land Bridge. If I close my eyes, I can see the map with the arrows depicting a route from Siberia to North America. The next Indian encounter was the ever-popular “Indian Wars.” This chapter of study began my animated disagreement with both the teacher and the textbook publishers. I was willing to provide the correct information that I was privy to by virtue of who I was and growing up in an Indian family. We knew our history.
I recall being placed outside the classroom in a chair, waiting for my mother to arrive. She was at work, so they had to wait until she could leave the office to come to the school. I sat in the hallway pondering my fate. My mother showed up and had a private discussion with the teacher. I was allowed back in the class and nothing more was said about the matter.
I did not read a poem, a short story, or a book by a Native author until I was a mature adult. My older sister, Luana, gave me a book of Native-authored short stories she was using for a university course she was teaching. I probably wore that book out. Over the next few years I discovered writing from Vine Deloria, Jr., Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, Joy Harjo, N. Scott Momaday, Ella Cara Deloria, and Simon J. Ortiz. Their works were life-changing for me. It is actually difficult to measure or describe the contribution of such work in my life. Language and stories are so powerful; they describe the world and our place in it. Family stories carried me through my turbulent teen and young adult years.
Upon receiving a grant to produce Native history materials, my first thought was to produce a book of narratives that I had sought out as an individual Native person, as a Native educator, and as a human being. I set out to do that by gathering a core group of Native scholars over the course of three years here on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana. For a week each summer we gathered, prayed, shared meals, sang, and talked story. We collectively imagined what this book could be. We decided to contribute narratives that told stories of people and place rather than dates and events, providing a glimpse into the very human side of history. These are the stories through which we make meaning. Paramount to the writing was the intention to create accessible narratives of interest to a broad audience. We thought and talked about our own communities, with the particular objective of telling the stories of our people’s agency and brilliance. Finally, we embraced one another across geographic and political boundaries to offer the fullness of stories from Indigenous America.
People brought stories from their relatives, from their homelands, from their history, their activism, their language, and their nations. I believe this collection of history, story, and reflection provokes and invites us to think and feel deeply about what it means for all of us to be human in our communities, nations, and beyond. After all, that is what a good story does.
Note: The terms “American Indian,” “Indian,” “Native American,” “Native,” “Indigenous,” “Tribal,” and “Alaska Native” are used throughout this book, sometimes interchangeably. Understand that general terms are used for including large, diverse groups and are in no way preferred to the beautiful names of the many nations that make up Indigenous America.
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