Only families can halt the breakdown of Native culture

Renee Crow
BOB HALLINEN / Daily News archive 2008

In the past the American school system and the church could and should be blamed for the loss of our Alaska cultures, but times have changed greatly. Today we are able to make choices about the languages our children are taught in with the variety of bilingual programs offered. We are able to home school our children or choose what high school they attend. There has never been a better or more important time for parents and community members to be an integral part of our children's education and life.

What is killing our Native cultures is not our schools but the breakdown of our families.

When we choose to speak English to our children instead of our own language, we are choosing to allow our language to die.

When we allow our children to watch hours of television or play video games instead of sharing our stories, we allow our culture to die.

When we choose to buy meat at the stores instead of trapping, hunting and fishing with our children, we fail to teach them how.

When we buy Doritos and frozen pizza instead of gathering eggs or berries, we hurt our culture.

When we buy a hat from the store instead of sewing one, we fail to teach our children.

When we go to bingo instead of playing our traditional games with our children, we fail.

While unfortunately prejudice still occurs, the days of Native peoples no longer having a say over their lives is long over. I am not a victim as my grandparents and parents were. No one can tell me that I do not belong or that my Native ways are inferior.

Every day I have choices: choices to stay sober, to not watch hours of TV or not to gamble. I have the choice to love my children and spend important time with them, to oversee their education, to teach them my culture's traditions and values.

We are hurting ourselves if we continue to see ourselves as victims. The truth is that our children need us to be part of their lives, to guide their thoughts and dreams. Our children need us to teach them our language, our culture, our traditions and values. All of these are too precious to trust to others to teach or allow to be taken from us.

It is true that the curriculum doesn't reflect Native ways -- and it shouldn't.

Schools have always been about teaching skills that families don't. In states like Michigan, where hunting is also valued, the schools do not teach how to be a successful hunter. It is taught by the family. When reading, writing and math are taught to our children it does not hurt them but adds to the fullness of their lives, giving them opportunities within their villages as well as outside to succeed.

Presently I cannot tell where my children will choose to live or what occupations they may have, but I want them to have the options to be successful in their choices.

Many teachers would define success not as a college education but as a person who is happy, living healthy, and contributing to their community in a positive way. For the most part, I believe that schools are doing their part to help our children. But when our communities continue to have the highest rates of alcoholism, neglect, sexual assault and suicide, I have to question whether we as families are doing our part. These things that hurt our children happen in homes, not in schools. It is best for our children that we look for solutions rather than pointing fingers.

Renee Crow is Aleut, raised on St. Paul Island. Now living in Bethel, she is the mother of four and has taught in the Lower Kuskokwim Region for 15 years.