Chasity Salvador is an intern with the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education. She is currently a junior at Stanford University and Miss Pueblo of Acoma 2016-2017. (Congratulations Chasity!)
I grew up listening to my father sing traditional Acoma songs as we would drive to the mountains and at the age seven I didn’t understand why; until I became old enough to learn that we were going to pray. It took even longer to understand why we pray—and a couple more years to understand that we pray in the following sequence for: the land, the rain, the animals, the world, the country, the Acoma community, our families, and finally for ourselves. I continued to learn these type of skills along with a western education when I entered the doors Santa Fe Indian School (SFIS) for my high school career. SFIS is an example of how Native American education has taken a 180-degree turnaround. The Indian Boarding School era was a period in American history that saw white people attempting to assimilate the native student U.S. western society with the following framework in mind “Kill the Indian, save the man.” It began with Carlisle Indian School and continued into the 1850’s with the start of SFIS.
The All Pueblo Indian Council (AIPC), in fear of losing more of the Pueblo Indian languages and cultures, took action to gain ownership over SFIS in 2001.In this ownership; SFIS has evolved into an incredible institution for over 700 middle and high school Pueblo Indian, Navajo and Mescalero Apache students. SFIS has created many opportunities for their students to thrive in middle, high, and postsecondary school. Now it stands as an alma mater to a dozen Gates Millennium scholars within the last 3 years, many Ivy League students, and a high number of future Indian Country leaders. These high success rates are strongly related to how SFIS integrates traditional and cultural philosophy in their school conduct and curricula.
It was an affirmation of this success when First Lady Michelle Obama agreed to give the commencement address for the SFIS class of 2016. The First Lady’s visit to SFIS has many native students and both native and non-native educators excited and feeling extremely accomplished. In addition to this excitement, Michelle Obama’s visit also has many interested in the federal government’s efforts to promote the success of educational outcomes for native students. In similar efforts, the honorable U.S. Secretary of Education, John King Jr., visited two schools on the Pine Ridge reservation on May 12 and attended the fourth Pine Ridge Educator Gathering hosted by the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education (WHIAIANE) and several federal agencies including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Secretary John King’s visit to the Pine Ridge reservation, being the second time a U.S. Secretary of Education has visited Indian Country, and Michelle Obama’s visit to SFIS means worlds of hope, forwardness, and love to students who are like me. It means love to the students who grew up on the reservation and learned traditional values. It means love for students who are growing up learning how to balance two languages despite moments of
complexity such as when I found out that the word ‘eyaani’ Keresan (the language spoken by Acoma Pueblo) language, doesn’t have an English connotation that justifiably describes it. To later find out it powerfully relates to the “essence in life” in moments of prayer in the Keresan language. It means love for students who grew up learning the sequence of items and people in a prayer from their fathers while learning algebra. It means love for students who attend pre-school in mobile homes and have dreams of attending one of the country’s most prestigious institutions. It means love for me.