Indian Education rally instills hope and pride in students
By Lailani Upham
Student, staff and visitors listen on as Polson High School English teacher Linda Pete delivers a heart touching poem by Joy Harjo called “Remember.” (Lailani Upham photo)
POLSON — A first time rally hosted by the Polson Indian Education Committee brought on a positive response from the student body at Polson High School last month.
The planning of the gathering was a “last minute” endeavor to build bridges. “It is the first time this has been done. We approached the Polson School Board to do this to bring healing from the historical trauma,” stated Kim Dempsey Edmonson, IEC Chair.
Polson senior Jasmine Auld opened with a dance and prayer in Kootenai. Auld was nervous; however, several participants said her presentation was admirable.
Over 30 Native students were selected by English teacher Linda Pete to represent their tribe at the assembly.
Tribes were represented at the school: Kootenai, Salish, Blackfeet, Lakota, Crow, Assiniboine, Pomo, Apache, Chippewa, Cree, Northern Cheyenne, Winnebago, Gros-Ventre, and Colville.
Each student stated their tribal connection and was asked to share their meaning of Thanksgiving.
Don Sam, co-owner of Ethnotech, a native owned business in Polson greeted the students and staff in Kootenai and his wife, Loretta Grey Cloud, addressed the attendees in Dakota language.
Keynote Speaker Sam shared with the students that as a young man he felt higher education was out of reach for him. “I didn’t think I could go to college at your age. I thought I wasn’t smart enough.”
Don Sam, co-owner of Ethnotech Inc. raises the spirits of the youth during his key note address during the first annual Indian Education Committee rally at Polson High School last Wednesday. (Lailani Upham photo)
Sam holds a B.S. in environmental science with an emphasis in ecosystem restoration and a master degree in business administration with an emphasis in American Indian entrepreneurship.
“School is not for smart people – it’s for learning,” Sam stated. Sam urged students to pursue a higher education and take in the entire college experience, “The friends you meet in school are your networks for the future,” he added.
Sam inspired the students to be proud of whom they are no matter what their ethnic background is and to always be themselves. He told the students that what they do is a reflection of who they are.
He added that stereotypes of people should be broken down through individual decisions.
As an example Sam pointed out the suit he was wearing was an intentional decision, “I could have wore a ribbon shirt or you might think I should be in one, but I chose to wear this suit.”
Pete also shared the platform to reflect on native historical perspective focusing on Thanksgiving.
Pete told the students that if they think Thanksgiving is about Indian and Pilgrims coming together for a feast – the mental picture is incorrect.
Indian Education Polson High students are recognized during the rally. A group of students carry out honor songs on the drum for the First Annual Indian Education Rally at Polson High. (Lailani Upham photo)
“Thanksgiving is not about what we learned about. It wasn’t all happy.”
“The pilgrims were a group of people that came from Europe because they were persecuted and had the courage to walk away and come to another country to practice what they believed. They came into an unknown situation.”
Pete added that both groups of people came to each other for survival. “The Indians came to the pilgrims to become friends and aid them in a land they knew nothing about.”
“Both sides of people were smart enough to know they needed each other to survive.”
Pete described each person as a beautiful gift and each is wrapped in a number of things and when unwrapped you can see the gift.
“We all have ethnicity and different color of skin. We are taught what to believe in. We are taught to be ugly, prejudice, jealous, but it is up to us to pull these away and see the gift. That is respect,” she shared.
She urged the student to thank each other during this time of year. “People are hurting,” she said. She added that each student step back and, “See them for who they are.”
The rally ended in a roar of cheers from the entire student body.