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Imagine getting thrown out of a history class for sticking up for what you know to be true. That’s what happened to student Chiitaanibah Johnson (Navajo/Maidu) when she was ejected from her California State University, Sacramento American history class. Johnson disputed her instructor’s refusal to use the word “genocide” when referring to the historical treatment of Native Americans. School is a place for debate and academic freedom. But what is the price for going against misperceptions of history and culture? Have you ever confronted a teacher in the classroom about terms, or information presented about Native Americans? What is the best way to go about expressing differences over history and facts?
Chiitaanibah Johnson (Navajo/Maidu) – California State University Sacramento student
Julie Cajune (Salish) – educational consultant
Break Music: Going Back (song) Paula Nelson (artist) C.H.A.N.T. Cherokee Hope And New Traditions (album)
Professor Maury Wiseman declined to participate in the show, but he sent two email messages. The full text of the emails are below:
“Thank you for the invitation but unfortunately I have to decline. I can provide you with the exact quotation that initiated the students unacceptably disruptive behavior.
“Native peoples created small-scale hunting and gathering societies, large-scale fishing societies, grand agricultural civilizations. Native peoples tended to speak numerous kinds of languages and created in that a diversity of cultures. Not only were there a diversity of cultures, but there were a large number of people on this continent when Europeans arrived. I don’t like to use the term ‘genocide’ because ‘genocide’ is something that is done on purpose, but needless to say European diseases, European diseases primarily, will wipe out Native American populations in the two continents and hence one of the reasons why later in history many Europeans will imagine that these continents were empty. But we know that as many as twenty-five million people might have lived in what we call Central America today. Another seven to ten million people lived in what we call North America today.”
In a second email he wrote:
“A couple of other points to follow up my response to your email. Despite her repeated disruptive behavior the student was never dis-enrolled from class. She dropped the course. Also, the statement I provided to you came in our first class lecture about Native American history and society prior to Columbus. Subsequent lectures explain the nature of contact. We had not even made it to first contact yet!”
Yes I got kicked out of class in high school, permanently.
Come to think of it I got sent out in 4th grade too. This was especially bad because I knew in my heart what the teacher said was wrong but I didn’t know what the correct information was.. The book said Mission Indians were known as Diggers because “they dug and grubbed for roots and bugs”. I couldn’t picture my aunts uncles or grandparents doing that. The teacher screamed at me that I had to accept that it was true about my relatives and some kids laughed.