I am a Native mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. The men, women, girls, and boys in my family are Indigenous. I have spent my entire life living with the possibility of violence or death aimed at myself and the people who I love the most.
Every single time an act of violence against a person or a group of people of color is in the news, I know in my heart it is only one visible act—and that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of acts of violence, overt and covert, committed against people of color every day that are not witnessed by anyone but the recipient. I know this because this is my experience—I see it every day.
For nearly 40 years I have worked with Native education leaders creating equitable access to higher education for Indigenous people. Our institutions graduate Native leaders and seek a better way of life for our children, families, and Native communities. We are on a restorative economic, social, and spiritual path, healing generations of trauma resulting from government policy and treatment of Native people.
The senseless and violent killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, and the harmful rhetoric about people of color is deeply disturbing. Their deaths are a painful reminder of the number of people who have been victims of systemic racism and invisibility. When someone calls out for their mother, I hear it just as I heard my own children call for me when they were looking for me to join them – to celebrate, to share sorrow or anger, and perhaps, just perhaps, to save their lives.
We are angry and we stand in solidarity with our African American brothers and sisters. We know only too well the vulnerability of all people of color and the risk to our well-being that violence and chaos create.
One thing that I know to be true through my work is that creating equity in education is meaningful because Education is the Answer to all of the disparities and challenges that society faces. Through education, we learn the truth about history, gain a shared understanding of values and relationships, and develop skills for communication and engagement. We learn how to provide better law enforcement and health care, more meaningful jobs, stewardship of the environment, and an improved quality of life for people of color.
Protests have erupted across our nation, demanding a new and better way forward in our country that is being ravaged by a virus that has disproportionately impacted people of color and the poor, laying bare our nation’s systemic and structural racism. Racism in America is nothing new. To be anti-racist means to stand in solidarity with people of color and to commit to transforming our nation’s systems, institutions, and relationships.
Our Indigenous teachings show us that we are all related. We have the choice to walk on the good road, the red road. This choice requires discipline, courage, accountability, and generosity. Our teachings remind us that each of us has gifts we can contribute for a better society—some of us by working to change systems, others by sharing their art and their words, and some by marching in the streets.
We must move forward with even greater resolve and an even greater commitment to using our Indigenous values as the guide for our daily work and for our vision. Recent events remind us of the vision the founders of tribally controlled education had; reminders that we must gather up our weapons of intelligence, resolve, cultural teachings, and resilience, to fight for a better future. For the American Indian College Fund, our weapon is education.
We join other justice organizations, advocates, communities, and especially our youth to move forward using our values of respect, responsibility, relationships, reasoning, and resilience.
We call upon our brothers and sisters nationwide to raise a unified voice to demand a humane, just, and equitable nation for people of color for the next seven generations. No one will grant us this vision—it is one we will only achieve through hard conversations, hard work, and dedication. I call upon us to work together to make our voices heard, our communities visible, with the goal of creating a home where all of our children can thrive in peace.
We reiterate our declarations of purpose for educational equity to reform education systems at all levels from early childhood education through college and adult education to eliminate racism. Racism is one of the greatest public health risks faced by brown and black people, and education is the shared space where good health and quality of life can be restored.
This is a time when people are broken hearted. As human beings, we know that we can carry love, joy, grief, and anger at the same time. We, at the American Indian College Fund, promise to listen and to be present with the sorrow and anger that we and others feel. We promise to work on solutions, with each other, and with our allies.
Cheryl Crazy Bull
Wacinyanpi Win (They Depend on Her)
President and CEO, American Indian College Fund