Victims or whiners?

It’s very gratifying to hear the responses regarding the dilemma of the teacher with the students who think it’s time for Indians to “get over it.” There is no doubt that the need to move forward is real, but we are all bearers of the burdens of the past. Somehow, we need to find a way to honor the truth that our past bequeaths us while keeping a strong vision for the future. It is no different for cultures than it is for individuals. If we as Americans have a bias, it is toward forgetting our past and focussing only on our future. But we carry a past, and we must find a way to acknowledge both its genius and its failures.

Please keep the comments coming on what the teacher should say to her students. I know she is watching this site, and will take each response to heart.

An interesting approach came from a friend of mine who has taught junior high for many years and is now a second grade teacher. He suggested she ask the students if they realize they are living on what used to be Indian land. When they answer with a tired “yes,” ask them, “Where did they go?”

Now, that, in my opinion, is good teaching at work.

5 comments

  1. beth ignacio says:

    Yes, the past is important and I believe you are right when you say focusing only on the future isn’t a good thing—I think the “moving on” notion really hit home when I visited the Holocaust museum in DC and listened to survivor stories. It made me realize that the balance of honoring the past but forgiving and moving on is imperative. The same idea has been provided to me while living and working around the Navajo people/Dine’—keeping the language and cultural traditions alive from the past yet striving to create a better future for the next generations—this balance is going on and is absolutely necessary. Focusing on the wrongs of the past keeps the energy there in a lot of ways but does not mean that one forgets about it and this is what seems to be the argument from a lot of folks concerning what happened to the Native populations here in N America. So I would say instead of victims or whiners maybe it should be survivors: past and present…honoring the WHOLE.

  2. luis oviedo says:

    perhaps one way to make such history lessons more relevant is to point out how history often repeats itself. genocide is frequently the topic of today’s news. the sooner we “get over it,” the sooner we forget, and the sooner it will repeat itself on other peoples.

    secondly, remembering the past is key to being able to forge a worldview to face the problems of the future, lest we reinvent the wheel with each generation. isn’t this at the core of the process of refinement and education? studying the past, and looking toward the future, therefore, are not mutually exclusive concepts.

    that is the short answer to the simplistic assertion.

  3. corinne ehrfurth says:

    Thank you everyone who has read and responded to the situation in my class. Yes, we need to honor and celebrate different cultures and our own–both are so valuable. Survivors needs to replace victims in order to get to proactive attitudes. I’ve worked with rape/assault Survivors and changing a mindset from victim to survivor helps the healing process and the “now what stage” greatly.

    Mr. Oviedo, I feel what you’re saying. History classes can’t seem to teach the personal stories, to make the suffering real (now with increasing state/federal “guidelines” on history facts, we’ll have even less time to make history real, to teach like Dan’s ideal). I wrote back to Ms. Audette saying about how it amazed me to see the difference of sympathy when teaching Wiesel’s memoir, Night, and now teaching Nerburn’s novel. There’s no doubt the Holocaust was appalling, yet I haven’t figured out why people keep feeling horrible about what some of our possible ancestors did there while still rationally writing off what some of our ancestors did to the Native Americans. Is it easier to acknowledge past sins, then correct current and future ones?

    I am taking all your responses quite seriously as these issues extend way beyond just my class. Does the world players/audience look upon Americans as I’ve been viewing my students?

  4. Debra Wilson says:

    It seems to me that in order to grieve a loss, one needs some kind of acknowledgement of it. Isn’t that what funerals are for (to acknowledge loss and comfort the grieving)?

    But what happens when the trauma is ongoing?

    So many Americans deny what was done to Indian people. Or should I say what is BEING done to Indian people?

    Would we say “get over it” to a friend who had a family member murdered?

  5. Ain’t no disgrace to be poor – but might as well be.

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