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Education: Cultural Hegemony and Critical Consciousness The Lac du Flambeau Curriculum

Cultural Hegemony

Cultural hegemony is a process by which some members of the oligarchy in our cultural diverse society manipulate the norms, values, beliefs, perceptions, customs and practices of people on the downside of power so that the worldview of the majority remains and/or become the accepted cultural norm.

Some of the tools through which this process takes place are:

  • Schools
  • Government
  • Media
  • Language
  • Hollywood
  • Management of companies

Mission Schools

The first boarding schools were set up either by the government or Christian missionaries. Initially, the government forced many Indian families to send their children to boarding schools.

The goal of boarding schools was to assimilate Native/First Nations/American Indian children into the dominant White culture so that they became part of a sedentary, agriculture-based, economic way of life that was compatible with the growing U.S. society.

The white supremacy of these authorities was so strong that many believed they were helping the Native children.

Lieutenant Richard Henry Pratt, the army captain who started the Carlisle, Pennsylvania mission school in 1879, coined the phrase to describe the process as follows:

“Kill the Indian in him, and save the man”—or completely assimilating Native people into the white man’s culture. “The aim was not to feed ‘our civilization to the Indians,’ but to feed ‘the Indians to our civilization.”

Pfister, p.46

“I say to you what I do know, that two years, under proper training, is enough to give to a young Indian a sufficient knowledge of the English language, sufficient intelligence and sufficient industrial capacity to enable him to make himself acceptable, and even self-supporting as a part of our agricultural population; –aye, and properly trained, he will have the desire to do it…all our Indians need is broad and enlarged liberty of opportunity and training to make them, within the short space of a few years, a perfectly acceptable part of our population, and to remove them from a condition of dependence, pauperism and crime, to a truly civilized condition.”

Pratt’s address to the National Educational Convention, 1883

“Civilization is a habit,” (Pratt) frequently asserted. “Language is nothing but a habit. We aren’t born with language, nor are we born with ideas either of civilization or savagery. All these things are forced upon us by our environment after birth.”

p. 191 Elaine Goodale Eastman Pratt: The Red Man’s Moses

Pratt had a behaviorist view of human nature. He believed in

  • Complete immersion and assimilation into the dominant white culture (this would only take 2 years, in Pratt’s view)
  • Miscegenation
  • Resulting mixed offspring should be considered White and not be entitled to Indian “benefits”
  • He opposed the reservation system
  • He advocated transcultural adoption to avoid family problems (Indian families teaching their kids about s Native way of life)
  • “Undesirable cultural influences” should be removed from Indians

Boarding schools forbade Native American children from using their own languages and names, as well as from practicing their religion and culture.

Even today, English only policies and practices govern practice in many public schools across the nation.

Indians/Native people were given new Anglo-American names, clothes, and haircuts, and told they must abandon their way of life because it was inferior to White people’s.

The outcomes of boarding schools were complicated, as are the outcomes of all colonial impositions.

For many Indian students, the outcome was and remains a painful loss of language, culture and identity. For some, boarding schools resulted in greater resiliency, pan-Indian solidarity and subversion. Others learned about the white way of life and were able to manipulate it.

The Lac du Flambeau Public School

Lac du Flambeau (LDF) had had its own boarding school which was visited by Lac du Flambeau Project, pre-service teachers from the University of Wisconsin students. The students saw photos of Ojibwe students with cropped hair, in European dress, learning how to adapt to a sedentary, white American, agricultural life style.

The pre-service teachers expected the LDF Public School to be engaged in culturally responsive and culturally sustaining pedagogy—”Culturally Sustaining/Revitalizing Pedagogy is a promising practice in utilizing Native culture and language to positively impact Native learners’ achievement. Deeply embedded in these practices is the teaching of Native languages in order to allow students to deeply connect with their cultural communities. (www.cde.ca.gov/pd/ee/culturallysustainingped.asp)

However, at the LDF, in Ms. Jackson’s 8th grade social studies class the teacher talked to her students about Black Friday and Thanksgiving without making a connection to the lives of her Native students. Both Black Friday and Thanksgiving are western traditions that are not usually celebrated by Natives.

It is important to note that Brian Jackson, Brandon Thoms, Carol, Rosemary Christensen, and other elders have been working to introduce culturally sustaining pedagogy into the school with considerable success. However, the LDF public school remains a mainstream Wisconsin public school, pursuing the mainstream Wisconsin curriculum, largely developed to socialize student into the dominant United States culture, including the English language.

In an interview, Tom Maulson said “Information is passed on through language and not text in our culture”.

In one of the classrooms there was a sign that said “dinosaurs didn’t read now they are extinct.” Signs in classrooms that tell students that if they don’t read they will go extinct. Traditionally, Native people had an oral cultural so the sign may be seen as telling the students that their traditional culture was inferior to western culture.

In an interview with Mr. Winter, a teacher at Lac du Flambeau public school said, “Kids are moving toward the push of moving to be more like their white friends.” Many students don’t know how to speak the Ojibwe language anymore. This situation is being addressed by an Ojibwe language program at the school.

In an interview with teachers, Brook and Lisa, the pre-service teachers learned how kids on the reservation were playing video games more and more often and they don’t spend that much time outside anymore.

Repeated culturally hegemonic actions have caused native kids to turn away from their culture and try to fit in more with the dominant western culture.

These actions include:

  • Removal of in-person, school wide singing (elementary)
  • Removal of talking circles (high school)
  • Attempted to limit the seven teachings (Love, respect, honesty, truth, wisdom, courage, humility elementary)
  • Attempted to limit seasonal components and hands-on experiences (elementary)
  • Attempted to limit historical fishing practices (reservation wide)
  • Higher expectations of non-Native students (mostly high school)
  • Compartmentalizing Native culture (both elementary and high school)
  • Two Native counselors, world language week, Native students need to push for cultural elements in the school, pow wows after school, Cultural Connections classroom

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