May 21, 2007

Turning Indian students into victims

End image of Native student victims, expert saysDeloria said he's heartened to meet hundreds of students who have goals of being doctors, microbiologists, engineers and entering professions he never heard of. And he said he knows they will do it.

“I'm so thrilled these kids have not been reached by that element that tried to make them feel or spend their lives as downtrodden victims. They're just charging right ahead and they're going to do something in their lives and do something for their communities,” he said. “They're not feeling sorry for themselves. They're not reliving the last time a village got burned.”

It's one reason he gets riled when professors promote the idea of multigenerational trauma.

“It basically enables an endless generation of Indian kids to use a boarding school that they never attended as an excuse for not taking responsibility for themselves,” he said.

“We can't afford to let that happen. There's so much academic enforcement perpetuating this, that you're really taking your life into your hands questioning it. It's just nuts. It's such a disservice to our own people, to our own kids.

“Yes, it was painful--but come on. We're not encouraging good mental health in our own people because we don't want to sacrifice our own victimhood.”

But he sees students who aren't wallowing in sorrow. They are saying: We've got work to do. We've got people to help.

“It's such an inspiration,” said Deloria. “It's such a different world. I tell you. I don't think I could compete with these kids. I'm glad I'm too damn old to have to try. They're smart. They're attractive. They're self-confident.
Comment:  I have to question Deloria's point here. Students who are smart and confident to make it to college are smart and confident enough to filter a professor's claims. Eighteen years of experience have shaped their sense of self-worth, so nothing short of another boarding-school trauma is likely to faze them.

But let's assume Deloria has a point. Professors are trying but failing to make Indian students feel bad about themselves. So what exactly is the problem? That today's professors are ineffectual or incompetent? That today's students have to listen to a few hours of victim-speak before they go on to their professional careers?

Unless things have changed since I was in college, I presume Deloria is talking about American Indian studies. Why are Indian students taking these classes if their goal is to be a doctor, scientist, or engineer? What do you expect to learn in a history class...biochemistry? If today's science and engineering teachers are spouting off about Sand Creek or Wounded Knee, that's a problem, but I doubt it's happening.

If Deloria wants to make his point, he should do it by telling us tales of smart, confident students whose professors turned them into victims and thwarted their budding careers. Then I'd believe this is a problem. Until then, no.

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