You Give Me Hope

By Vi Waln

Life is hard for many Lakota people. It may be especially difficult when you are living on the land where your ancestors grew up. There are times in life when you might lose something that’s important to you. There are also times in your life when people who mean a lot to you are taken away.

Yet, finishing school is an accomplishment that will never be taken away from you. Education is definitely an achievement that you will never lose. Nobody can take away your high school diploma or college degree. An education is yours to keep. Forever.

Quills
A 2017 graduate of Pine Ridge High School wore a mortarboard decorated with porcupine quills. Photo from Facebook

This month, we’ve seen many of our young people graduate from high school. In an area designated as one of the poorest in the country, finishing high school is a great achievement. Some of our young people grow up in extreme poverty. The fact that our young Lakota students were able to persevere to complete high school is an achievement their Tiospaye can be very proud of.

It’s even more difficult for our people to leave home for college. We are all aware of how tight-knit our Lakota Tiospaye can be. Young people who have enrolled in a program of study at a college or university far away from home often have a hard time. They experience extreme loneliness. They might even fall into the wrong crowd.

Yet, many have dealt with the issues that come with being away from home and family. Those of us who use social media were privileged to see the photos of college graduates recently shared by family and friends. All of the Lakota college graduates from across the country have made us all very proud. Lakota people are smart!

But even though we are smart, we often engage in lateral oppression. It’s not smart to make fun of people who’ve earned a college degree. People who make fun of their relatives should examine their own behavior. You look foolish when you make fun of others.

Before the advent of the internet and social media, we made fun of others either in person or behind their backs. Our ancestors probably had more self-control than we will ever have. Our ancestors worked hard to ensure the entire tribe was provided for. They didn’t have time to engage in lateral oppression by making fun of each other. They were too busy being self-sufficient.

Consequently, there are smart Lakota people who have decided not to attend college because they don’t want to be a target of lateral oppression. Lakota people who’ve earned a degree are often accused of thinking they are better than everyone else. There are also Lakota people accused of somehow morphing into a wasicu after they graduate from a university. Again, you look really foolish when you engage in lateral oppression.

College graduates are also overlooked when it comes to being hired for a tribal job. I once witnessed my tribal council chose a person with a high school diploma for a director job. He was hired over a qualified applicant with a college degree. This may be another reason why our young people are discouraged from attending college. Today, many Lakota people voice their concern that a college degree doesn’t matter when you try to work for your tribe.

In any case, Lakota people would do well to encourage one another to get educated. There isn’t anything wasicu about graduating from a university. You better yourself and your tribe by earning a college degree.

If you are a Lakota person who regularly puts down your fellow tribal citizens by making disparaging remarks about their college education, I encourage you to look in the mirror to figure out why you do it. We are proud of our college educated tribal citizens. You should be proud of them too.

Congratulations to everyone who overcame all obstacles to finish high school and college. You give me hope.

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