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VIVIAN DELGADO COLUMN: Original teachings and worldviews

Most Indigenous people understand that their original teachings come from their Creation stories.

Their Creation stories describe for them their geographical surroundings, their place, their relationship with the land, and their environmental knowledge and teachings. It is this revered knowledge and teachings that guide our inner thoughts and daily ways of life. It is how we make sense of the world around us.

Indigenous people know that each, diverse, Creation story among the hundreds of Indigenous Nations is just as significant and important as the next because each Creation story serves as an infrastructure for their people. Thus, each group of Indigenous people are one unto them and yet part of the bigger whole of the Indigenous landscape. It has always been this way.

Worldviews are the lens through wherein one validates and gives credibility to factual circumstances and experiences. Our original teachings frame our worldviews; it tells us what our world is and how it came into being. Among Indigenous peoples there are numerous accounts of how and why the original teaching's explanations and descriptions of the world provides the foundations for ourselves as humans; of other living things with whom we share this Earth, including the identity and purpose we claim for ourselves.

For example; in the most basic teachings among most Pueblo people we know that we are continually becoming. That is continually becoming human beings until we come to the end of our human journey. In this process we acknowledge the becoming of all other living things; the plants, animals, water, and minerals becoming in their own way. All living things are becoming because life is not stagnant it is always in motion and thus always becoming.

In our modern time, our expressions of these teachings are in greater need than ever before because of assimilative forces, loss of land, destruction to our environments and the ever presence of colonization. Although we see the escalation of negative forces, we also see the development of some technologies that could be used to promote positive knowledge and support the survival of our ancient Indigenous teachings. For example, the National Archive Research Administration located in Washington now has satellite buildings scattered throughout the United States where most types of high-end research can be done.

The topic of Indigenous research is of utmost importance for Indigenous survival because we stress to our young people to think how their ancestors thought, to respond how their ancestors would have responded, to say what their ancestors would have had to say and to honor their ancestors in their everyday life and work. The only way our young people could do these things is to know who their ancestors were and to imagine their place in times past.

A genealogical research in most cases can now give you your ancestor's names in their Indigenous language and where they were born and how they were identified by the government, or if they could read or write or speak English. When genealogies are compared to treaties and other government documents regarding land, water and taxes, one could begin to understand how miscommunication and in some case misrepresentation benefited one group over the other.

I have seen some pictures that have been submitted to Ancestry.com and were retrieved archival information. These pictures serve as another window; to see a past that we know no longer exists and yet it could serve as a personal transformational experience. What I have learned of my ancestors is that they were there for each other, they were humble and lived according to their needs afforded by their place, and still live in the same geographical region; our ways were never lost, they are attainable and they are there to remind us who we are.

As I have done in previous columns, I asked some others to speak about what education and learning mean to them.

Please identify yourself.

My name is Samantha Fairbanks, I am enrolled member of the Leech Lake band of Ojibwe. My family comes from Ball Club, Minn., but my parents raised me in Bemidji. For the past five years, I have been pursuing higher education at BSU; this year I will be graduating as a double major in social work and Indian Studies. During my time here, I have had the pleasure of learning from some of the best (in my opinion) teachers that have taught me a lot about who I am as an Ojibwe person. Benjamin Burgess, Anton Treuer, Giniw Giizhig, Tessa Reed, Vivian Delgado and Collette "Tori" Dahlke.

BSU presented me with many opportunities to build leadership skills and responsibility with the Council of Indian Students. I also had time to embrace my culture and find identity with my colleagues at the American Indian Resource Center. I found myself here at BSU as an Ojibwe person; at least this is where it was highly enforced. Within my first year, I was taking Indian Studies and Ojibwe language courses learning for the first time about genocide, Indian Boarding Schools, outlaw of Indian religion and so on; but I also learned about the beauty in my culture, the love for land, our creation/re-creation stories, and the importance of keeping our culture and language alive.

From my life experiences and this new knowledge, I knew that I could better my community by being a role model and showing our kids the same beauty in our culture that was shown to me; building a cultural foundation for children to find identity as Ojibwe people. I found myself in Social Work; I feel this field of study suited me best for what I wanted to do. With my education and skills learned from extra curricular activities, my goal is to eventually bring a cultural program that is implemented in the school system in hopes to build better relations between native and non-native. I believe with cultural based education that discusses the history of Indian people would create an understanding between both peoples.

What is the earliest education that you remember?

Throughout my early education, I attended Bemidji Area Public Schools. I really struggled here, I had no interest in school. Nothing pertained to me as an American Indian, nor were there many people who looked like me. Overall, I did good in the public school system. I maintained a decent GPA and graduated early, but there was always something missing. I feel my biggest hurdle in life was finding identity as an Indian person. It was not readily available in my home or at school. I remember in first grade, I was involved in an after-school program taught by a lady named Bambii, we made crafts and she told us stories about the 'old days' (a practice common to Indian people as a way to pass on history and original teachings of the land) but that was really the only education I received that pertained me.

It's an indescribable feeling, being a child and wondering who you are supposed to be. I didn't have dreams of being a scientist or professional artist, but why would I? Nobody I knew did such a thing nor was such a job talked about. My dad worked construction and my mom was an accountant at a non-profit organization but with eight kids, we were still considered low-income. I feel my parents were too busy trying to survive in the western world that teaching their kids a 'primitive' culture was not important.

How has western education affected you?

I think before I can answer this question, I must answer this questions for my elders. Western education was forced upon them; boarding schools took them away from their communities. Our ceremonies were practiced in secrecy due to the outlaw of Indian religion. The result of this was a generation of Indian people lacking identity, culture and language.

From this perspective, I feel Western education has affected me in many ways. Not only did I grow up without identity but I grew up with a false image of Indian history. Although I struggled with identity there was benefit to growing up in an urban community and public school education. I feel here I was presented more opportunity and I did encounter great teachers who tried to make those cultural connections. I also feel that through the Bemidji public schools, I ended up at BSU, where I found myself.

As a person living in two worlds, what words of wisdom would you like to offer?

I would like to let parents know, do not be afraid to teach your children our traditional knowledge. Do not think that this knowledge is not important in this era. We had these teachings for a reason. We knew that there were powers on this land much powerful than we would be as humans. The Laws of Nature guided our lives as Indian people. Our creation stories (original teachings) told us that our creator put everything here before us, we, as people are simply stewards of land. This knowledge is still prevalent today, this world will not be here forever at the rate we are going.

Did You Know?

On Aug. 17, the Red Lake Nation held their Grand Opening ceremonies commemorating their new Tribal Community College, Tribal Government building, Veterans Monument and Powwow Grounds. The blessing was given by Eugene Stillday, Red Lake Tribal Spiritual Advisor from Ponemah. Along with the Red Lake Nation Chairman Darrell Seki Sr. were the tribal council members and the Red Lake hereditary chiefs.

There were veteran's honor songs, a flag ceremony, a 21-gun salute, and taps for the deceased veterans and a few comments from Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton in front of the new tribal government building. Speaking of the buildings, both the Tribal Community College building and the Tribal Government building has a majestic eagle that covers the front-top of each building depicting the culture of the people and the distinction of the Red Lake reservation. To top things off, during the veteran's songs a large golden eagle flew low and directly above the attendees it was such a blessing and a beautiful sight to see. It was an eye-opener for those in attendance to be part of such an accomplishment that will be there for the people for generations to come.

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