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Indian Ed Conference: Learning Through Heritage

A buffalo from the herd on tribal lands at Prairie Island will be harvested during the Minnesota Indian Education Conference, which runs through Friday. (USFWS/FlickR)
A buffalo from the herd on tribal lands at Prairie Island will be harvested during the Minnesota Indian Education Conference, which runs through Friday. (USFWS/FlickR)
November 16, 2017

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- A buffalo will be killed, dressed and eaten the traditional way as part of the Minnesota Indian Education conference this week.

On Thursday, students in grades 6-12 will help elders harvest the animal and serve meat to the conference attendees. It's one way organizers hope to accomplish the goal of helping Native students revive lost heritage.

Ramona Kitto Stately, vice chair with the Minnesota Indian Education Association, said that lost history is one reason many Native kids do poorly in school.

"In education, it is the absence of acknowledging that historic trauma, and that trauma of what happened in Minnesota 150 years ago: exiling the Dakota, not really acknowledging the presence of a people that were here for over 10,000 years,” Kitto Stately said.

She said the conference aims to find ways for Native students to hear their own stories in every subject. There are workshops for educators on everything from training and retaining Native teachers to addressing micro-aggression in the classroom.

The Minnesota Indian Education Conference, focused on meeting the needs of Native students, runs through Friday at Treasure Island Casino.

One hopeful development is the surge in for-credit classes in Ojibwe and Dakota. Native languages are now being taught in dozens of school districts across the state.

On the Lower Sioux reservation, Ryan Dixon teaches for-credit classes in Dakota at the high school. He grew up Oglala Lakota, speaking the Lakota language with his grandmother.

"Even though I'm Lakota and I teach Dakota, you know, we have the same language, same spirituality,” Dixon said, "That's who we are. It's our direct link to the Creator."

Besides the high school classes, Dixon teaches middle school students and adults. He said a grant will help establish a Dakota language immersion preschool on the reservation next year.

Dixon is attending the three-day conference, which is in its 33rd year and falls, as usual, during November, National Native American Heritage Month.

Laurie Stern, Public News Service - MN