Sweating Culture: S1E4 with Dr. Diana Cournoyer

Dr. Diana Cournoyer, Oglala Lakota, is the Executive Director of the National Indian Education Association. Her passion for culture and dedication to ensuring Native students are taught in environments that foster truth, growth, and prosperity shine bright in this season’s fourth episode.

Diana highlights the importance of culture within the school. Tradition, spiritual beliefs, thoughts, and philosophy are an integral component of one’s self. Asking our learners to pack those things away when they cross the threshold of school is asking them to deny themselves. Learners are assessed academically, behaviorally, socially, and developmentally – all while denying their true self to fit a mold that was never designed for them.

To be Native and go to school, you have to compromise a lot. Your own integrity has to be in check. There’s a lot of code-switching. You have to speak a certain way; you can’t use slang. You can’t dress a certain way. You can’t think your own thoughts and philosophy, you have to change.

Before students can access the curriculum, they are expected to change everything about themselves first, sit, and listen. This environment is not conducive to raising up a learner or critical thinker; it doesn’t lead to knowledge. “In Indigenous philosophy of learning, we didn’t have the word education. We have learning and we have knowledge”. Instead of restricting learning to a set number of weeks and a standardized test, students need to be given a change to hear, process, and apply information to learn and gain true understanding.

Diana plainly states that we’re not meeting our students’ basic needs in the current American education system. Assessments and tests have shifted to the forefront of concerns and student physical, emotional, and mental health status has been ignored, “we have to put things in the proper order”.

We need to break out. We need to take this education system and turn it upside down.

The work happening right now within programs like the National Indian Education Association benefits the Native learners immensely. What would happen if we adopted this learning philosophy in all districts? Perhaps the greeter question is, how do we even get there?

Diana explains, schools need to consider the social and emotional needs of kids, first. Stress, fear, and worry are not Native issues. In the midst of the pandemic, we see people of all backgrounds, in all walks of life, negatively impacted by the social-distancing. Spirituality and connection are so important to the human experience, no matter the community you live in, and right now that connection is what puts us most at risk. 
Now more than ever, we need to be mindful of each other on a deeper level and check in. We need to ask questions, learn about our unique differences, and leverage the elements of our cultures to bridge the gap between the trauma of isolation and a learning experience that heals, uplifts, and empowers.

Catch this episode and others on www.theboredofed.com or wherever you tune in to podcasts.

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