Diversity Symposium

Blake devoted its 21st Diversity Symposium to the discussion of Native Americans. Unlike past years, this Diversity Symposium, called “Native People, Native Voices, and Native Perspectives,” had a panel of five people who all shared unique stories and experiences.


Sasha Houston Brown ’05 worked tirelessly to remove a line of Urban Outfitters clothing that bore sacred Navajo patterns. Brown is a member of the Sioux tribe and her father resides on a reservation in Nebraska. Brown told many stories about her experiences growing up as a Native child. However, the most disturbing was about her father’s childhood.


At a young age Brown’s father was forced to attend a Christian boarding school in an attempt to assimilate him into the Caucasian culture. The atmosphere in the school was so unpleasant that he tried to run away many times, only achieving success at age 11. The police found him after his escape wearing a pink dress and with a shaven head. He was in this state because this was a form of punishment the nuns and priests at his school would use to demoralize Native boys.


Brown’s primary recommendation to all educators is to “integrate indigenous voice into all subjects, whether it be mathematics, English, or Spanish class.” Anna Reid, a Blake English department teacher who is part Ojibwe, has designed a course that focuses on Native American fiction, folklore, and film, to incorporate their culture into our studies. Many students have already signed up for this course, which demonstrates that students have a “yearning for learning about Native American cultures,” as Reid puts it.


During the symposium, Reid recalled situations during her childhood when her grandmothers or relatives would try to “scrub” the dark skin off of them, or wear powder on their faces to appear more Caucasian. This personal connection with Native American culture has been an influence in Reid’s studies and her upcoming course.


The final panel member was Roy Taylor, the father of a Blake Upper School student. Taylor is a member of the Pawnee People in Oklahoma.


“We can’t begin to understand [Native Americans’] situations until we understand how we, as the United States, have treated them,” said Brown. There are many suggestions the panelists gave of ways to become involved in Native American life. In Minneapolis, there are Native coffee shops, jewelers, and an American Indian Center. Additionally, the city is home to Native American hip-hop groups and comedy teams.

It is difficult to decide where to begin to learn about such an advanced and complicated culture. The history of Minnesota is rich with stories of valiant fur traders and the legacy of Manifest Destiny, however the Native American side of the story is often overlooked. 2012 marked the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Dakota War, a conflict between white settlers and Native Americans that was very impactful in shaping Minnesota today.


As Scott Flemming puts it, “We need to hear the untold part of the story. Native communities, despite U.S. Dakota wars, despite many challenges, are still vibrant. They are here, they are among us, and their voices and stories are very important to hear in 2013.”Screen shot 2013-04-25 at 8.55.03 AM