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Unlearning the past for a better present, and a more just future.

The history of the United States has been a hotly debated topic within education for the last century. I, however, just recently came to learn this information through one of my courses I am taking as we explore the "history and culture wars" and their implications on public education since its establishment in what's now known as the United States.

When I signed up for this class, titled "History and Culture Wars in American Education", I was ecstatic. Knowing the deep roots of cultural assimilation on indigenous people throughout the "founding" of this country is foundational to my work, along with confronting the false narratives of our countries history that exacerbate our textbooks and curriculum. Upon receiving the syllabus for this class, I appreciated that the instructor went the extra step to include a "Land Acknowledgement" within the syllabus. While I was fairly certain the tribes acknowledged weren't 100% accurate, I appreciated the attempt and thoughtfulness. I felt like I was going to be in good company, and this class would be a great learning experience for me.

The first day of class arrived, and so did my most recent order from the NTVS, which included my shirt designed by Stephen Paul Judd that says- "Merciless Indian Savages - Declaration of Independence". I gleefully put it on and donned it to class that evening.

When we gathered, and the instructor began going through the syllabus with the class, pretty typical of any first class period for a college course. I was a bit surprised that he completely skipped over the land acknowledgement that he, himself, had added to the syllabus. We then proceeded to dive into the coursework expectations for the semester, reviewing the topics we would be exploring each week for the duration of the semester. It was all very "typical" of a course reviewing "history" and "culture" in our country. However, the week before Thanksgiving, he had listed the topic "'Decolonizing' the Curriculum", and he had the word "decolonizing" in quotation marks. He then went on to explain that many people are currently debating the place of decolonizing curriculum and whether that's even possible.

I was floored.

The class that I thought would get me one step closer to indigenizing colonial spaces, ended up be the very antithesis of my work. As the semester has progressed, I feel that my enthusiasm shrinks each week I have to attend class.

I grew up in very typical, "white America", in a suburban town, where I always just identified as white because I didn't know any better, and that was how I look. Light skin, blue eyes, light brown hair, I just assumed that I was white. I had heard my dad say things regarding us being "Indian" a few times, but never really knew what that meant.

When it came time to apply for college, my ACT score was not high enough to get me into a mainstream public university in my state. My dad told me I could go to Haskell for free because I was Cherokee, and wanting to fly the coup and try life on my own.

Upon arriving, the only things I "knew" about being Cherokee, were utterly wrong, it so many ways. I had just about every misconception and stereotype in my brain because I never had anybody to tell me any better. I had a rude awakening waiting for me when I began school, and it was not an easy transition.

Since beginning that college experience 11 years ago, I would happily say that I am a very different person. One of the hardest parts of the journey was unlearning everything I thought I knew about the world and my life. I am still unlearning things, and will continue to do so throughout my life. Now, when people ask me who I am, I proudly say- Ꮵ ᏣᎳᎩ. I am Cherokee. I am an enrolled Citizen of the Cherokee Nation, and I learn more and more about what it means to be Cherokee each and every day. It is not an easy journey, but it has significantly improved my life in so many ways. It is a way of being and knowing that I wish I had as a kid. As I have come to realize, I didn't have access to those experiences because the assimilation policies that were forced upon indigenous people worked on my family. The governments goals to breed us out almost worked. Almost.

I am still here. A proud, loud, resilient, Cherokee woman. I often daydream about how different life will be for my future children, should I ever be blessed with any, will be as they learn from the day they are born who they are. I can tell them that we are Cherokee. We belong to this earth, and to each other. I can teach them what it means to live and walk in a good way, and to uplift our relatives and support one another with love and understanding.

For now, my goal here is to share my knowledge and experiences as an un-assimilated educator, and how it can be done in classrooms as well. It didn't take long in class after my instructors comments about the "debates about the place of decolonization within schools and curriculum" for me to let him know that I do that work. I am that work. It is possible, and we will continue to be resilient as we walk into the future.

Thank you, relatives, for being here on this journey with me. I look forward to learning together and building up a community of indigenous knowledge and wisdom. Education is my ᎦᏚᎩ- gadugi- it is my community. Welcome, relatives. I am glad you're here.


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