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We The People
IN THE CLASSROOM AT UNITED TRIBES
27 October 2008

BISMARCK (UTN) - This year marks the 221st anniversary of the United States Constitution. On Sept. 17, 1787, the U.S. Constitution was signed, changing the course of history. It is widely accepted that this document was influenced by the Iroquois Great Binding Law of Peace, Gayanashagowa.

      At United Tribes Technical College, we celebrate Constitution Day and reflect specifically on the relationship between the U.S. Constitution and treaties with tribal nations that pre-existed the United States of America.

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” – Article 1, United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights

      The Constitution is basically the rule book for how the federal government should operate. Even with the amendments that have been added, the words written by the framers of this document are still in effect today. The framers wanted to promote justice and preserve freedom for future generations. They knew that every generation should be free and have a fair and just government. You have certain rights under the Constitution. Every person is best served by the Constitution when each person fully understands it and works to preserve those certain protections for future generations.

      To celebrate Constitution Day 2008, UTTC students were asked to reflect on their thoughts and feelings about the Constitution and what it means to them. In a variety of different settings across the campus, students, as future leaders, expressed themselves about the treaties, the land divisions, and upholding what is near and dear to their hearts.

      The following is a summary of what instructors and advisors heard in UTTC classrooms about the Constitution:

      Most believe that the First Amendment is the greatest right we have -- the freedom of speech. This does not mean that we can say anything we want at any time, but we can express our thoughts and opinions freely without fear of retribution from the governing body. With freedom of speech comes great responsibility to treat everyone from all cultures with respect and not tolerate anyone being treated badly. The joy to be able to practice Native American religion and culture is one of the most precious gifts protected by the Constitution. They would like to see mutual respect and education between all cultures. Artistic expression and the written word are also forms of freedom of speech. This is followed by the Second Amendment, the right to keep and bear arms.

      Some students expressed the want and need to feel safe in their home. They like their privacy and want to be treated fairly and just like everyone else when it comes to the laws set forth by the government. They do not want to have their belongings searched or made to feel guilty of a crime, or presumed guilty of a crime just because they are Native American. Some would like to be further educated in areas of self-help in learning to control alcohol and drug abuse, domestic abuse, and violence issues. Tribal citizens are often stereotyped with these labels. Of interest was the comment about the English language. If they were made to learn English, why shouldn’t everyone coming into our country also have to learn it as well?

      Teaching of cultural practices and customs of all people needs to gain importance in the educational areas of life. Students would like to be further educated in the Native American cultures. Also needed are Native Americans educated in the ways of the government and its policies and procedures to enable them to hold government offices and protect their rights under the treaties. If education among all people for all cultures was taken more seriously, the mix of cultures could get along better and tribal leaders could work with other governmental leaders to settle past issues that are still unresolved today.

      As we are all aware, historical documents show how the land was divided among Native Americans and how treaties were signed to protect their rights. The next generation of Native American leaders still feels the heartache of their forefathers. They cannot understand how and why all of the land issues happened in the first place so many years ago. To some, it feels as recent as yesterday; to others, it was a long time ago but they still want the treaties honored. A few realize that it isn’t the people of today that took the land from them. Nevertheless, there is still a current feeling among UTTC students of betrayal and mistrust of the government over treaties – a feeling that tribal ancestors were taken advantage of when the treaties were first negotiated.

      At UTTC, the students are very proud to be Native American and would not change it for anything in the world. They are proud of their heritage regardless what labels or stereotypes other people express. Quite a few comments stated that the term “Indian” meant a person from India and that these students are in fact Native Americans.

      Most students are very strong people, a few have a feeling of hopelessness, when the subject of fairness and justice come up. They want their stories and history to be as true and factual as possible when teaching other people.

 

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