The following letter appeared as an article in The Northern Newsletter. It was submitted by
Before you take charge of the classroom that contains my child, please ask yourself
why you are going to teach Indian children. What are your expectations? What rewards do
you anticipate? What ego-needs will our children have to meet?
Write down and examine all the information and opinions you possess about Indians.
What are the stereotypes and untested assumptions that you bring with you into the class-
room? How many negative attitudes toward Indians will you put before my child?
What values, class prejudices, and moral principles do you take for granted as univer-
sal? Please remember that "different from" is not the same as "worse than" or "better
than", and the yardstick you use to measure your own life satisfactorily may not be appro-
priate for the lives of others.
The term "culturally deprived" was invented by well-meaning middle-class white
people to describe something they could not understand.
Too many teachers, unfortunately, seem to see their role as a rescuer. My child does
not need to be rescued; he does not consider being Indian a misfortune. He has a culture,
probably older than yours; he has meaningful values and a rich and varied experiential
background. However strange or incomprehensible it may seem to you, you have no right
to do or say anything that implies to him that it is less than satisfactory.
Our children’s experiences have been different from those of the "typical" white
middle-class child for whom most school curricula seem to have been designed. (I suspect
that this "typical" child does not exist, except in the minds of curriculum writers.) None-
theless, my child’s experiences have been as intense and meaningful to him as any child’s.
Like most Indian children his age, he is competent. He can dress himself, prepare a
meal for himself, clean up afterwards, care for a younger child. He knows his Reserve, all
of which is his home, like the back of his hand.
He is not accustomed to having to ask permission to do the ordinary things that are
part of normal living. He is seldom forbidden to do anything; more usually the conse-
quences of an action are explained to him and he is allowed to decide for himself whether
or not to act. His entire existence since he has been old enough to see and hear has been an
experiential learning situation arranged to provide him with the opportunity to develop life
skills and confidence in his own capacities. Didactic teaching will be an alien experience
He is not self-conscious in the way many white children are. Nobody has ever told
him his efforts toward independence are cute. He is a young human being energetically
doing his job, which is to get on with the process of learning to function as an adult human
being. He will respect you as a person, but he will expect you to do likewise to him.
He has been taught, by precept, that courtesy is an essential part of human conduct
and rudeness is any action that makes another person feel stupid or foolish. Do not mis-
take his patient courtesy for indifference or passivity. He doesn’t speak standard English, but he is no way "linguistically handicapped”. If
you will take the time and courtesy to listen and observe carefully, you will see that he and
the other Indian children communicate very well, both among themselves and with other
Indians. They speak "functional" English very effectively augmented by their fluency in the
silent language, that subtle, unspoken communication of facial expressions, gestures, body
movement, and the uses of personal space.
You will be well advised to remember that our children are skilful interpreters of the
silent language. They will know your feelings and attitudes with unerring precision, no
matter how carefully you arrange your smile or modulate your voice. They will learn in your
classroom because children learn involuntarily. What they learn will depend on you.
Will you help my child to learn to read, or will you teach him that he has a reading
problem? Will you help him develop problem solving skills, or will you teach him that
school is where you try to guess what answer the teacher wants?
Will he learn that his sense of his own value and dignity is valid, or will he learn that
he must forever be apologetic, and "trying harder", because he isn’t white? Can you help
him acquire the intellectual skills he needs without at the same time imposing your values
on top of those he already has?
Respect my child. He is a person. He has a right to be himself.
Yours very sincerely,