On Wednesday night, Nov. 6, award-winning educator, historian and film-producer Julie Cajune delivered MSU’s 2013 Phyllis Berger Memorial Lecture. Around 65 people gathered in the Museum of the Rockies Hager Auditorium for the event. Sponsored by the Department of Native American Studies, the evening began with an honor song for Cajune, a member of the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribe, by the Bear Canyon Singers.
Cajune’s lecture titled, “The World is Asking: Give a Courageous Answer,” challenged the audience to tackle issues like human trafficking and climate change, highlighting the help Native American’s could bring. “Indigenous people have something to offer because we have thousands of years of experience living sustainably on the land,” said Cajune.
However, with that wisdom also comes hurdles for indigenous people to overcome. According to Cajune, Native American children are two to three grades behind their peers. Cajune cited a lack of lingual preparation for teachers and an invisible distance between tribes and schools as roots to this problem.
“Language is inherited,” proposed Cajune. Often the vocabulary with which Native American children attend school is limited due to a limited vocabulary in their family life. While such linguistic skills are effective for verbal communication, they do not fulfill the requirements of the written communication regularly used in the classroom. “Elementary teachers need to be trained as language teachers,” said Cajune.
Also, Cajune argued many Native Americans do not feel the schools are for them, noting the few Native American teachers and school administrators. This lack of ownership, due perhaps to a lack of reconciliation between Native Americans and schools, contributes to high dropout rates. “Parents are fine with their kids quitting school,” said Cajune.
[pullquote align=”right”]“Indigenous people have something to offer because we have thousands of years of experience living sustainably on the land.” — Julie Cajune[/pullquote]
To help combat this problem, Cajune dreams of “Indian education for all,” having recently completed a three-year project funded by the Montana State Legislature on developing tribal histories material. Montana is the only state to constitutionally commit to preserving the cultural heritage of American Indians in education, and Cajune recognized its unique position to lead in sharing tribal stories. “For Indian people, this work is an act of love — it’s about restoring all our humanity, so that people who have been silenced or marginalized are listened to,” said Cajune.