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By Maggie Wells
Staff Writer 

Education up close at Standing Rock


September 13, 2016  | View PDF

It’s the second week of school in Indian Valley and there’s a field trip of sorts happening that I wish I were on — one that the children on it will remember for a lifetime. Maidu children from both Indian Valley and Susanville are headed to North Dakota to join the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in support of their ongoing struggle to have clean drinking water uncontaminated by oil.

Indian Valley residents have donated bottled water, non-perishable food items, gas money and all sorts of things in support of those going on the trip. The community members who are supporting this effort are comprised of both Natives and non-Natives alike.

Of course, the issues in North Dakota are more complicated than just drinking water. There are broken treaties, there are business interests, there’s a long history of exploitation of both land and people. There are many differences of opinion. But whatever the opinion one has on the Standing Rock Sioux and their struggle to ensure that the drinking water does not become contaminated — the experience for the people leaving Indian Valley for North Dakota will be a learning experience like no other.

My personal take on the trip and the tribes of nations around the country coming together in Dakota is one of joy and hope. The factionalizing of federally recognized tribes versus non-federally recognized tribes has long been one of division as tribes scramble for what little funding comes down through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The photos and live video footage coming out of North Dakota are breathtaking — tribe after tribe lending their support to the Standing Rock Sioux in solidarity. Unspoken is the assumption — this struggle has been and could be the struggle of every tribe in the United States where the opportunity to exploit oil or land or mineral rights exists at the expense of those who live on the land.

There are some who are already arguing that once a school year starts, a child’s place is behind a desk — learning things they will most likely forget. (I challenge every reader who hasn’t taken geometry in 20 years to do a proof right now, and carry on a conversation from their Spanish 2 textbook). But I wholeheartedly disagree with those who would rather see these youth in a classroom at this moment in time.

This is the ultimate project-based learning activity. A road trip to history in the making. There’s not an aspect of today’s educational experience not touched by this trip: history, social studies, civics, cartography, communications, language arts, cultural studies, math, science and physical education.

Perhaps students on this trip will glean valuable life lessons about building community on a national scale, a global scale. Too often we find ourselves living in a myopic bubble, which does not envision how our struggles in the valley mirror ones in other areas of the country.

Perhaps these students will bring back a will and fortitude to bring about positive change. To participate in history cannot help but change the outlook one has.

This is not to denigrate the traditional school. Learning to read and write and do mathematics is an essential tool that will make or break one’s livelihood. Not knowing the facts of science or not knowing our own culture and history is also detrimental and a great teacher and school program can go a long way in fighting ignorance.

But we need to recognize too that real world experience is valuable and can inform what we are learning in school — and that what these students learn can then be taught to those of us who couldn’t go and had to stay home.

There wasn’t much I personally could give; a couple of cases of water. But I am immensely grateful to help out any way I can.

I am so proud that people from the community I have chosen to live have had such a warm supportive response to the Standing Rock Sioux and to the Susanville Rancheria members and Indian Valley Maidu who made it a point not to watch history from their computer screens and phones, but to actually take part in it instead.

Safe journey home. Teach us what you saw.


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