Eleventh annual Navajo Education Conference

March 29, 1968


Window Rock, AZ

Let me say this is a very distressing time—there are some very disturbing matters which I feel must be explored and remedied here in the Indian community.

The Indian is our First Citizen. The nurturing and emboldening of the young Indian’s mind should be a priority to all of us here in America…

…But here, in Arizona, the United States government says we must send our youth to boarding schools—they are forced to go to them—often thousands of miles away from their parents. And this, at a time when a child suffers most from this separation. The role model of a parent—the ties that bind families across this nation—this is the strength, the fabric…[that] binds our country together, yet here this moral fiber is torn apart just as it is being kindled. I don’t think that is acceptable…

What we’re talking about is a national tragedy in the United States. Thousands of Indian children are out of school…

For this we cannot blame the Indian child, or the Indians’ lack of motivation. I think it’s about time we stopped blaming the Indian child for the large dropout rate and blame where it belongs-on the system.

I believe this disgrace should last no longer. The Indian must have the power to shape his own education.

As recently as last winter two Navajo boys, feeling they could no longer bear the displacement of being herded to a boarding school, ran away, and rather than finding enlightenment in their freedom, they found death in the freezing air of the night.

This brutal tragedy is shocking evidence of America’s failure to provide a decent educational program for Indian children. Furthermore, I believe this system—this shortsignted system—of Indian education is not really beneficial to the Indian youth. How could it be? This unresponsive system ignores the Indian culture and denies their heritage—their lineage—in essence, everything which makes Indians proud, strong, gracious individuals they are, and what they mean to this country.

Too frequently this system is constructed around those doing the educating and not the indian child. The purpose should be to help the child, not expand the bureaucracy…Navajo boarding schools crush the spirit of the child rather than embolden it. And this eventually defeats the purpose of education altogether.

This is a fight we’re engaged in. A fight for accountability from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the United States government. A fight which we must win—not for ourselves or our own satisfaction or justification—but for America’s Indian children. This fight, however, will not be won by continuing to run counterproductive boarding schools nor will the struggle be resolved by simply placing Indian children in public schools. We must dedicate ourselves to success in this effort, yet unless we allocate more funds directly to Indian education, we cannot hope for success.

But I think it should be clear that simply throwing money at any specific problem will not solve the problem. I believe we should supplement our ability to afford an increase in funds with an effort to recruit former Peace Corps and VISTA volunteers to aid in the instructional areas because they are uniquely qualified and would be able to gain a greater rapport with these young students…so these children will be prepared for the future and not misplaced by the past…

I believe it is time for the voice of the Navajo to be heard in the United States—not only heard but heeded.