From the superintendent: Recognizing Native American heritage—and more

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Dear Colleagues:

November is Native American Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the many contributions of our country’s indigenous people to the America we know today. Native American Heritage Month is also a great opportunity for reflection on our equity work in Saint Paul Public Schools.

On the surface, the month sounds like a positive way to celebrate the rich cultures and traditions of our Native peoples.

But step back and think about what it means to set aside one period of time to celebrate one particular culture. If we celebrate the American Indian culture during the month of November, what are we celebrating during all the other months of the year?

Yes, February is Black History Month, and there are a few others, such as National Hispanic Heritage Month.

But if we recognize one culture each month, there aren’t enough months in the year to celebrate the many cultures in St. Paul!

As a result of all that I’ve learned through equity training here at SPPS, I believe that a better, more equitable approach would be to celebrate all races and cultures, every day -- to create an America that values different races and cultures for the assets they bring to our country, rather than for the deficits we sometimes attach to them.

This dichotomy of celebrating a race or culture one month, but asking all cultures to assimilate to the White culture for all the other months, is how some people of color -- some of our students of color -- may see the world.

So as we head into November, I absolutely encourage you to celebrate the heritage of the  especially Minnesota’s Ojibwe and Dakota Indians. I encourage our teachers and students alike who know a Native American student to start a courageous conversation with that student. Acknowledge this month’s celebration, asking what he or she thinks about the meaning of such a designation. Or consider a discussion on Thanksgiving and the different perspective Native Americans have about a day that has been cherished nationally.

But remember, especially in a school district with a student population that is 75% students of color and Native Americans, we must celebrate, love and have high expectations for students of all races, every day.

For more information on our school system’s work to ensure racial equity, go to racialequity.spps.org.

Your very proud superintendent,

Silva Signature


 

Valeria S. Silva