Superintendent’s Message: Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Scenic view of trees, lake, and mountain

Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day! Today is a day set aside to honor the culture and people who inhabited the lands where we reside. Their way of being, both in terms of collective sense of community and stewardship for lands have much to teach us. While our country has sought to deliver on a promise of equality and opportunity, we have often failed to live up to these ideals. The Indigenous peoples’ experience under State and Federal policy was one of forced assimilation and active efforts to eradicate Native cultures. Forced relocation, boarding schools, and active recasting of the history of Native experiences in our country have created lasting inequities and traumatically different outcomes for Native youth.

We need to see our history through new eyes. I encourage us to commit to new approaches to understanding the past and learning how to appreciate the lived experiences of others. We need to actively support traditionally disenfranchised members of our community to reach the promise of equality. The fourth goal of this ESD is to ‘Eradicate Racism’. To me, that means we begin by actively learning about race in America, but more than listening, we need to examine ourselves deeply so that we can move from passivity to action.

As Ibram X Kendi said, “One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of ’not racist.’ The clam of ’not racist’ neutrality is a mask for racism.” Next week we will start on a new journey as an organization. For the first time the ESD is asking all our staff to engage in shared learning and to maintain a sustained focus on understanding the history of race in America. We will all be challenged to see the subtle, but powerful ways this history influences our lives today. We have lots to learn, but as an organization that was founded for the purpose of ‘assuring equal opportunities for all students’ we need to go beyond individual efforts toward a sustained organizational impact in the communities we serve.

Today is a good day to pause and reflect on what we know about racial injustice in America, but more importantly, today reminds us that we need to see ourselves and others differently. I look forward to the journey with all of you.  I encourage you to come prepared next week with an open mind and a willing spirit. Let’s all be focused on understanding. My request is that you will be willing to engage with other members of the ESD community as we learn, share and grow together.

Billy Frank Jr., one of our local Native American heroes once said, “I don’t believe in magic. I believe in the sun and the stars, the water, the tides, the floods, the owls, the hawks flying, the river running, the wind talking. They’re measurements. They tell us how healthy things are. How healthy we are. Because we and they are the same.”

My hope for us all is that we can see our sameness in terms of our struggles to become the people we were intended to be. I also hope we can see the struggles of others who have been historically viewed as different, and in that new perspective realize that our health as individuals, as an organization, and as a country will be determined in a large part by how we respond.