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Nation Building 101

I have been reflecting a lot about nations.

What defines a "nation"? Is it a common culture? Is it a common ancestry? Language? Physical location?

Is it a definition of borders by a person or group with power?

Is it a system of laws or rules that everyone (more or less) opts into? Are these laws set by some type of consensus, based on the needs of the people? Or are they set because one group seeks to control another?

Or does nation-building occur when a group has a sense of empowerment? When a group recognizes that there is a "we" here, in this defined place, and that "we" has power not because someone has given it power, nor because someone has grasped power.. but because all the things necessary for having power to act in a unified manner, for the common good, can occur?

Summer 2018: Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe Department of Education
Educational Standards Work Group

Above, meet this year's "Standards Work Group." The Tribal Education Department hand-selects these professionals to contribute to the Tribe's ongoing development of national (tribal) education standards. 

In the field of education, "standards" are the things about which a nation says, "This is important. Our children need to learn this." For the United States, the national standards are called the "Common Core." Each state has the right to reject them, to modify them, or to adopt them as the "State Standards." 

Adopting standards implies accepting what they value or focus upon. Adopting standards is  buying in to a specific future.

This is our second year of working together on the standards for the education of tribal youth in the tribal education system. This work, of determining, writing, passing into legislation, and adopting national standards for a tribal nation, is new. More than 400 years of history has said "We, the dominant culture, know what you need to teach in your education... not you."

Not any more.

Our work group, along with the Tribal Council, which has the legal power to move things into law for the Sisseton Wahpeton tribal nation, is creating a new history. We are carefully, line by line by line (there are a LOT of standards!!) analyzing Common Core and South Dakota educational standards. We are rejecting those which do not "fit" the current and future realities of the Dakota Oyate (Dakota nation). And for the many we keep, we are modifying them to not only include, but honor, the Dakota language, culture, and world view. 

It is slow, hard work. Some on our work group (like me) bring expertise in education. Others bring expertise in Dakota language, history, and culture. 

This year, our work group welcomed two guests- One comes from the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation whose reservation is in North Dakota. Another comes from the Oglala Sioux Tribe, which currently calls the Pine Ridge Reservation home.

Flag of the Oglala Nation

These two women brought their leadership and cultural and linguistic expertise to the table. They're both going home to launch a similar initiative among their own tribal members.

A big job, this. And sometimes painfully slow. 

When we closed our first week of work today, though, we reflected on that perception of "slowness."

Making history, by its nature, IS slow, hard work. So is nation-building.

I am grateful to have an opportunity to be part of this.

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