Lessons Learned This Week: North Dakota Indian Education Summit


Professors, conference presenters and speakers at professional development often complain that teachers don’t want to discuss the deeper issues. They say,

Teachers only worry about what they can do with their class on Monday.

Of course, not worrying about that is a luxury if you don’t have to teach a class full of students on Monday. Personally, I have often sat in training sessions trying to figure how this was going to help me convey the concept of variance to a student who just did not grasp it, or, yes, I admit it, graded papers the whole morning. (Quit judging me! Like you never did it!)

I was in Bismarck for a different meeting and since the North Dakota Indian Education Summit was going on up the street and they apparently have a pretty low bar to clear to get in – you need to buy a ticket – I went.

seal of North Dakota

Was I ever glad I did! I learned A LOT, more then I could put in one blog post or newsletter.

North Dakota Native American Essential Understandings

JT Oneside Shining spoke about the essential understandings.

There is a whole youtube channel of Teaching of Our Elders. You can find her and other elders speaking there.

You can also find a summary of the essential understandings here. There are 7 but these are also inter-related (you’d know that if you’d followed the link!)

For example – she talked about Native Contributions to society. Native Americans have the highest per capita participation in the military, and have been enlisting in the U.S. military before they were recognized as citizens.

Did you know that Native Americans were not recognized as citizens until 1924? All those Native Americans who served in World War I, including the code talkers – not recognized as citizens! How crazy is that?

Much of the food we eat today was first cultivated or gathered by Native Americans – corn, pumpkin, wild rice, tomatoes, potatoes.

She also urged us all to look 7 Generations forward and 7 Generations back in making decisions and understanding the choices people make. She suggested that the high participation of native people in the military may have roots in a culture five generations back that valued warriors and protecting the people. (Native Identity was another of the essential understandings.)

A person who plants a tree may never enjoy the fruits or the shade from her efforts, but that is looking a generation forward. If no one did that, the world would be a lot worse place.

One of the points Ms. Shining Oneside made that was the OPPOSITE of the “what should I do on Monday” idea was:

If you have the opportunity to visit with an elder, it’s not going to be for 10 minutes – get in, get the information you want and get out. You’re going to sit, have some coffee or tea and hear 5 or 6 unrelated stories before you get to the story or knowledge you’re looking for.

She’s completely, right, you know. There is such a push in education to focus on what we can USE – for the next standardized test, to write the next grant, to put in the next lesson plan.

Her presentation was a reminder of the value of learning that makes you a better person, not just a better employee.

Speaking of stories … that was another of the essential understandings, learning and story telling.

She says she tells stories to her grandchildren while fixing their hair. I think that happens in a lot of cultures. I remember my grandmother talking to me while she tried to get my hair to be less of a mess after playing outside all day. My friends who are African-American talk about how their moms would have long talks with them while braiding their hair.

So … if you really need something useful for class on Monday, I’ll leave you with this … think about how you can use stories to teach your classes.

Whether it’s statistics, astronomy, biology or game development, a good story makes a huge difference in attention and retention. That’s a story for another day, though.

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