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Native American students are fighting negative stereotypes

Native American students are celebrating their culture with their classmates to break down stereotypes. Source: shutterstock.com

It’s Monday morning and the classroom is alive with chitter-chatter about the weekend gossip. Friends are reminiscing about Friday night’s antics, and frantically swapping answers for the homework they forgot to do.

The teacher walks in, and you feel their eyes glare at you above the babble. Although the whole classroom is ecstatic with exaggerated storytelling and mischief-making, it is you who is, once again, assumed to be the culprit of the classroom’s chaos.

This is the daily grind for thousands of Native American students across the US, reports The Nation. Stereotyped as troublemakers and class clowns, Native American school children have to overcome odds very much not in their favor to make the most of an education system that should be for everyone.

For those whose ancestors called the US home long before Christopher Columbus’s voyages, prejudices against them are routed deeper into US society than the culture of their own heritage. Now only making up two percent of the total US population, they have a war to fight against society’s image of them, to even receive the same educational opportunities as white Americans.

But now, impassioned Native American students are taking matters into their own hands. Left with no other choice, students across the US are changing the status quo. By educating the education system on their vibrant culture and rich heritage, Native American students hope to break down cultural barriers to study in harmony with equal opportunities.

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This is the story of the Mohawk Club at Massena Central High School in New York State, according National Public Radio (NPR). At the school, one-tenth of students are Native Americans. That’s one-tenth of students who are always blamed as the “bad kids”, according to club president, Amanda Rourke.  

Rourke explains that parents, students and even teachers have negative prejudices towards the Akwesasne Mohawk reservation, where the club members live, and this spills from the streets of their community into the hallways of their school.

“A lot of the friends that I have, their parents are afraid to come to the rez [reservation]. I’ve heard them saying, ‘Oh you can’t go down there. You’re going to get shot or robbed or jumped,'” Rourke told NPR.  

“It’s so demeaning and disrespectful,” club treasurer Keely Thompson-Cook said.

“I get so passionate about it because I just don’t see why I shouldn’t have an equal right to somebody who maybe isn’t of my skin color.”

Realising that there is ignorance towards Native American culture, the Mohawk Club decided to introduce students at the school to their zestful culture through a medium central to both Native and non-native American life – delicious food.

The club invited students to hear about their way of life over an Indian taco fundraiser. Sunday said that the whole school was really excited when they heard about the fundraiser, and it was a great opportunity to challenge negative stereotypes.

Events like these have helped the club to start positive dialogue between students about Native American life in the past.

Thompson-Cook told NPR that last year, non-Native American students came up to her after a club event wanting to know more about her people’s history, culture and traditions. She says that new curiosity helps all the Mohawk students.

“They feel more comfortable coming to school being Native American and being proud of who they are.”

By starting these conversations, the students in the Mohawk Club hope to rewrite historical prejudice from Native American stereotypes to Native American pride.

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