Counter vandalism targeting Chickasaw Nation with education

Counter vandalism targeting Chickasaw Nation with education
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Many were rightly outraged by the vandalism and threats targeting Native Americans, the Jewish community and other local institutions in the greater Oklahoma City area in late March.

The defacing of the Chickasaw Nation and Democratic Party offices with the words “Indians will be gassed,” “Savages,” “HH” (short for “Heil Hitler”), the white supremacist symbol “1488,” anti-gay epithets and swastikas are intolerable threats against Native Americans, Jews, gays and people of color.

Although a suspect was arrested, this troubling incident is a reminder that prejudice against Native Americans, Jews and others still exists, and we must do a better job addressing this lingering problem.

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If there is a silver lining in this episode, let it serve as a clarion call for more effective tolerance training for our youth, as well as education about Native Americans and other minority groups.

The ignorance about Native Americans, their noble histories and tragic mistreatment is particularly glaring. Sadly, too many are unaware of the genocide, theft and marginalization that Native Americans endured for centuries and the ongoing challenges that Indian Country faces in current times.

Few understand that, despite the injustices they have suffered, Native Americans have made countless contributions to American society. Among them, they have the heroic distinction of service in the U.S. military in greater numbers than all other ethnic groups from the American Revolution to the present day.

Throughout their history, tribes have upheld timeless and universal ideals of honor, care for the aged, bravery, self-reliance, honesty, balance, respect for the environment and sustainable living.

Each of us can grow and benefit from these eternal principles.

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In order for citizens to develop further the tolerance that is essential for our diverse nation, improved tolerance training that teaches of the unique struggle that the Native American communities have experienced is needed on a broader basis.

This effort starts with our schools. Curricula must be bolstered with a more thorough accounting of the Native American experience; tribal government and law; tribal sovereignty; and tribes’ relations, often tortured, with the U.S. federal government and the states.

Just as junior high and high schools budget for field trips to Washington, D.C., educational institutions would be well served to allocate resources for study trips to appropriate destinations that provide meaningful learning opportunities about American Indians, their varied traditions and histories.

To properly augment Native American studies programs, educators must be equipped with all of the tools available in teaching today — online courses, virtual programs, e-books, traveling exhibits, learning apps and video conference symposia.     

This obligation to teach our youth about Native American history also can be facilitated by improved collaboration between tribal and non-tribal educators, scholars and other professionals. When possible, tribal governments should be consulted and involved, providing perspective and expertise.

Fortifying our schools with improved content about Native Americans will help our young become better grounded in their own country’s history, giving them a deeper understanding of first peoples.

Such measures will prepare students for the future by building critical thinking skills that are steeped in history, equipping them with the tools to help avoid repetition of past injustices, crimes and mistakes.   

Making headway in this endeavor will involve a long-term, sustained effort. While people of goodwill cannot eliminate ignorance and hatred with easy slogans or fleeting focus, we are all in a position to speak out and make a difference when American Indians and other groups are targeted. Parents, teachers, religious leaders, elected officials and other community figures all need to do their part.  

Our shock and anger from the recent vandalism in Oklahoma City must mobilize us to do more to educate about indigenous peoples, their wisdom and values, and to impart the importance of building bridges among different communities.     

Ted Gover, Ph.D., is director of the Tribal Administration Certificate Program at Claremont Graduate University. He is an instructor of American government at Central Texas College, where he teaches political science for the U.S. Marines Corps at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and executive director of the nonprofit Foundation For California.

 He is an adviser to the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its world-renowned Museum of Tolerance.