Lessons from Vine Deloria, Jr.

Sunday Vine Deloria Jr, a Sioux Indian, passed away following complications from an aortic aneurysm.

From the LA Times obituary:

Vine was a great leader and writer, probably the most influential American Indian of the past century — one of the most influential Americans, period,” said Charles Wilkinson, of the University of Colorado School of Law at Boulder and an Indian law expert. Deloria wrote more than 20 books, but it was his first in 1969, “Custer Died for Your Sins,” that brought him to the nation’s attention. In 2002, Wilkinson called it “perhaps the single most influential book ever written on Indian affairs” and described it as “at once fiery and humorous, uplifting and sharply critical.”

Deloria was an articulate, outspoken, and often controversial figure. Though it’s not his best-known work, I think some of his insights on education are valuable to consider regardless of the ethnic backgrounds of the students you work with. The following passage is from Power and Place which he published in 2001 with Daniel Wildcat.

“It is instructive to move away from Western educational values and theories and survey the educational practices of the old Indians. Not only does one get a sense of emotional stability, which indeed might be simply the act of nostalgia, but viewing the way the old people educated themselves and their young gives a person the sense that education is more than the process of imparting and receiving information. Indeed it is the very purpose of human society…

...Education in the traditional setting occurs by examples and not as a process of indoctrination. That is to say, elders are the best living examples of what the end product of education and life experiences should be. We sometimes forget that life is exceedingly hard and that none of us accomplishes everything we could possibly do or even many of the things we intended to do. The elder exemplifies both the good and bad experiences of life, and in witnessing their failures as much as their successes we are cushioned in our despair of disappointment and bolstered in our exuberance of success.

...We share our failures and successes so we know who we are and so that we have confidence when we do things…”

We can always continue to do more to build on the knowledge and experiences students already have, acknowledge where they come from and what they already know, and enlist the help of those at home who have been the first, and often times remain the most influential, teachers. 

Posted by Christa Umphrey on 11/17 at 08:02 PM
© 2005 Montana Heritage Project