At the age of 16, I ran away from the city to move to the White Earth Reservation in northwestern Minnesota. I always loved it up there. As children, we’d go every summer, and just about every weekend in between, to spend our days canoeing, ricing, and berry picking at my grandfather’s. We’d visit with the elders, explore the great outdoors, and care for one another in our community.
Looking back, I suppose it was the simple life that I ran back to.
Even at a young age, I knew working with children was my passion. Not long after my return, I found work in the early childhood education field providing home visits to families on the reservation. The families always viewed me as company, the socialization aspect equally as important for the parents and children that often lived 30 miles from their closest neighbors. It was not uncommon for my visits to run close to two hours long and conclude with talking about family and friends over a warm cup of coffee.
Life in the city is much different. Many native families come to Minneapolis for work and better access to quality education programs and health care centers for their families. But with so many great opportunities, families are constantly rushing and on the run to doctor appointments, parent activities at the school, extra classes and community events, you name it. For some families, finding an hour to set aside for a visit can be a challenge, but they make the time because like all parents, they want what’s best for their kids.
As natives, we also know that we need to do better for our children who are disproportionately unprepared to succeed in school.
- Among Native American children in the state of Minnesota, only 61.9% were deemed ready for kindergarten last year, which is lower than any other racial or ethnic group.
- Minnesota ranked 9th out of the 13 states reporting on 4th grade reading proficiency rates among Native American children.
- Last year, Minnesota had nearly the worst high school graduation rate for Native American students in the nation with only 52% graduating on time.*
These dire statistics are important to highlight because all too often, America’s indigenous people are left out of conversations about closing the “achievement gap.” It is clear we must work to help our children. The first step is to inform parents in our community that these gaps exist and of the importance of starting early to build the foundational skills necessary to overcome them. Following a long history of discrimination, neglect, and abuse, we are recognizing as a community that it is time for us to speak up.
Alison Dakota is a Way to Grow Family Educator. She currently works in Minneapolis providing family support and home visiting services to 30 families, 25 of which identify as Native American.
*Research presented in The State of Minnesota Public Education: A MinnCAN Research Snapshot, March 2016