I am an eighteen-year-old Native American boy. I am half Navajo and half Tohono O’odham. While growing up, I’ve moved from New Mexico, to California, and to Arizona. In Arizona, I attended schools on and off the Tohono O’odham Reservation. From seventh grade up to sophomore year, I went to schools in Three Points and Tucson. During those years I spent off the Reservation, I grew up seeing my parents drink and get into arguments. My parents were in a car accident after a day of drinking that left my mother seriously injured. My father started to suffer with PTSD years after he retired from the Marines and began drinking more than ever. This led to problems in my home that made me feel I was alone. There were many days I wished that I didn’t exist and I wanted to give up, but I had music and a love for my siblings that motivated me to keep going.
For the first quarter of Sophomore Year, I attended a school in Tucson. Then I moved back to the Tohono O’odham Reservation. I was a very sad boy at that time. I was broken. Then I found community members and teachers that actually cared about me. I started getting involved with ceremonies, traditional storytelling, and learning traditional songs. I was able to learn about myself when I started learning about the history of the people I come from. I found my roots. Once I did that, I was able to crawl out of that dark place in my life that I was stuck in for so long. When that happened, I was able to find things that I was interested in and learn what I wanted to do with my life.
Last summer, I attended a camp in Denver, Colorado to learn about Music Business. The camp brought together high schoolers from across the country to make music and learn about the Music Industry. For two weeks I lived with three other dudes that came from just outside of Denver, one came from Texas, and the other was from Arizona. On the first night, after we got settled into the dorm room, we started introducing ourselves to each other and sharing where we were from.
After I talked about myself I remember seeing a look of confusion on my roommate’s face as he asked, “Hold on, what did you say you were?”
I had gotten used to this every time introduce myself, someone asking for me to repeat the pronunciation, “Tohono O’odham.” I replied.
“No not that.” This was unusual, he wasn’t asking about my tribe. “You said Native American, right?”
With a bit of confusion and concern, I gave back an unsure, “Yeah..” His next few words would leave me stunned.
“I thought the Pilgrims killed all the Natives?”
I was shocked, appalled, concerned, hurt, astonished. I was a lot of things. I didn’t know how to feel about this. To realize that my struggles and the plight of Native Americans everywhere were invisible to the rest of the country was extremely demoralizing. This moment has made me reflect on all my years of schooling off the reservation. As I look back, I can vaguely remember a time in kindergarten when we learned about the “first thanksgiving”. Other than that, I can’t recall another time where I learned about Native American history in schools. That’s because we’re rarely talked about at all.
Everything I learned about my people, I didn’t learn until I moved back home. I learned about attempted genocide, stolen land, and cultural assimilation. Outside of school, I participated in the Reburial Ceremony where I learned about the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). I have had community members teach me about forced sterilization of Native American women. In talks with elders, I was told stories of how boarding schools were used to make native children forget their culture. While talking with kids my own age, I have learned how historical trauma has caused the pain of the generations before me to seep into the veins of today’s Native Youth as we deal with suicide, alcoholism, and the loss of culture.
All of these things barely scratch the surface of Native American history. All of these things were taught to me by community members. All of these things are ignored in public schools across America. The only time that these issues were taught to me in a class was at Baboquivari High School on the Tohono O’odham Reservation. The school offers a Native American History class (which is taught by a community member) that is required for students to graduate. Recently, The state of Oregon has been working to make a Native American curriculum mandatory in all school districts in the state. The rest of the country needs to do the same.The fact that there are people that don’t know that a whole group of people even exists shows that there is a huge problem with U.S. Education. To have the people that inhabited this land first to be erased from history is horrible. We deserve way more than just a couple pages out of a whole textbook. We are done being ignored. We deserve to be remembered.