An Educator’s Response to the Secretary’s comments on Manifest Destiny

An Educator’s Response to the Secretary’s comments on Manifest Destiny

By Anpao Duta Flying Earth, Head of School, Native American Community Academy | December 28, 2017

“We must make education particularly (or specifically) relevant to students regarding their cultural historical needs. This will empower them to articulate and achieve their individual passions, thereby intellectually and socially fortifying their communities.”

On December 9th the New Mexico Public Education Secretary-designate said, “This is a country built over the last 250 years on things like freedom, choice, competition, options, going west, Manifest Destiny — these are the fundamental principles of this country.”

My grandmother first told me about Manifest Destiny in the context of genocide and brutal colonization of our ancestors. European colonizers used the idea of Manifest Destiny based in a righteous divine purpose to validate the killing, raping, and theft of indigenous land and ideas. She would often emphasize that though Manifest Destiny began hundreds of years ago, it is still alive in peoples’ ideas today. It is the cause for a corrupt notion of property rights that disregards the inherent rights and responsibilities that Indigenous people have to the land. Manifest Destiny has led to the paternalistic treatment of tribes by the federal government articulated in policy and de facto treatment of Indigenous people that sends a message of “we know what’s best for you” and in fact “it’s our divine right to control you and your land base.”

Because of my knowledge and personal experience with the idea of Manifest Destiny, I was shocked to hear it referenced in a speech by the New Mexico Secretary of Education as a positive baseline theory in our education systems. Everyone in the education field, especially the New Mexico Secretary of Education, has the responsibility to learn about the local context and culture of the people, if for nothing else than to better understand the thousands of children and families who are affected by their leadership. What message is proliferated by the validation of Manifest Destiny as quintessentially American?

I understand that the intentions of these comments are based in the support of high-quality charter schools. However, there is no context that validates the use of this term in relation to progress without disregarding the brutal reality of what happened in this country’s history under the auspice of Manifest Destiny. We need to demand accountability of individuals who carelessly use terms that buttress domination and supremacy of one group over another. Accountability is necessary when considering that the individual who made these remarks is responsible for the leadership of an entire state’s education system.

We must make education particularly (or specifically) relevant to students regarding their cultural historical needs. This will empower them to articulate and achieve their individual passions, thereby intellectually and socially fortifying their communities. A very good friend of mine once said, “what’s good for Maori is good for the world” meaning that supporting the self-determination of communities to actualize their own goals related to their cultural philosophy and epistemology is better than trying to force them to be something they are not. A Canadian relative reflects, “if a savior mentality to education in Indigenous communities was effective, then boarding schools would have been constructive and successful in tribal nation building. In fact, they caused drastic harm. We believe that moving forward for Indigenous communities requires unlocking local genius by centering education on culture and orienting learning and growth to fit this focus. We should not assume that what works in one community will work in the next – or that an outside perspective is more valid and that dropping in outside one-size-fits- all education models will benefit our communities.

At NACA, we believe that a successful educational equity movement will be rooted in a localized context and the community/families that it serves. One of our community’s Core Values is Culture – We honor and value our own cultures and those of others. We recognize we are influenced by many cultures, including Indigenous, youth, and contemporary western cultures and are mindful in how this impacts the development of identity. We hope that we can all draw upon our strengths and culture to ensure a healthy, respectful and relevant educational experience for all students. This model could be helpful to the New Mexico Public Education Secretary and help him to avoid making insensitive comments such as that made about Manifest Destiny in the context of our education systems.