Standing in the Light: Culture as the Heart of Education

by Cheryl Crazy Bull
January 17, 2005
SoTL Conference – CAU


Good Afternoon. I am honored to be among so many people whose life work is to build the hearts and minds of others through education. It is a privilege for me to share some of my thoughts and beliefs with you just as you have shared yours with me throughout the day.

I was born and raised on my home reservation, the Rosebud Reservation in what is now South Dakota. I am Sicangu Lakota as well as French and German and probably English or some type of Eastern European. My Lakota name is Wacinyanpi Win given to me by my paternal grandmother when I was about 16 – it means Woman they depend on. I am a wife, a mother, a grandmother and a lifelong educator.

For the last three and ½ years, I have served as President of Northwest Indian College, a regional tribal college serving tribes in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. In October, I was elected to my second term as President of AIHEC. I have spent the last twenty-five years working in tribal education at both the K-12 and higher education levels.
Since contact with Columbus, indigenous people on this continent have been subjected to systemic and deliberate attempts to destroy their cultural beliefs and ways of knowing through education. Beginning with seemingly benevolent efforts to Christianize native peoples but manifesting themselves in violent and often deadly acts, the colonizers of what are now the Americas did everything in their power to suppress indigenous populations and to force their integration into what we now refer to as western or mainstream society.

As a result of our experience, native people realize that teaching and learning are political acts. Teaching and learning are sources of and opportunities to engage political power that can have both intimate and far-reaching social and economic implications. Curriculum is not neutral – it is value-laden. The structure of schooling is not neutral – it too is laden with values and the practical application of belief systems.

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