Public Schools located on reservations in the United States are failing to recognize the tribes the student body represents. Public schools located within the Osage Nation Reservation are no exception to this oversight. There are more than 644,000 Native American students nationwide that attend public schools and 130,000 of these students reside in the state of Oklahoma.
Native American students at Pawhuska High School are disappointed that the Pawhuska Board of Education continues to ignore the land and flag acknowledgment proposed by the Pawhuska Johnson O’Malley parent committee. The committee suggested the acknowledgments to the school board in an official proposal in November – Native American Heritage Month. The land acknowledgment proposal was not added to the school board’s agenda until February 2022.
“It is basically to consider land acknowledgment, acknowledging that Pawhuska Public Schools resides on, in the reservation of the Osage Nation,” said Superintendent David Cash. “It has been done by several Universities in the United States, it’s been done by Tulsa Public schools, so I would like to put in one here as a discussion item.”
The JOM Parent Committee asked for the land and flag acknowledgment as a way to bring awareness to the land the schools are placed on and to shine a light on the Native community.
The school receives funds for being located on tribal land through Impact Aid and Title VI programs. This year, the 2021-2022 school year, the Title VI program has received funds close to $80,000 to provide cultural enrichment and academic achievement, according to Sharon Forte, Title VI Director. Pawhuska schools has approximately 366 students that are listed under the Title VI program, Forte said. There are approximately 300 students enrolled in the JOM program, according to Avis Ballard, JOM Coordinator for the Osage Nation.
With a little bit less than 2/3rds of the student population being enrolled in a tribe and being a part of the Title 6 and JOM programs, cultural acknowledgment is still a problem for the school.
As a PHS student myself, the Senior Class President and the Native American Student Association President, our school has a very diverse indigenous community with 26 tribes represented including the Osage, Cherokee, Ponca, Seminole, Confederate Tribes of Colville Reservation, Cheyenne & Arapaho, Choctaw, Citizen Potawatomi, Comanche, Delaware, Fort Belknap, Iowa, Muscogee Creek, Northern Cheyenne, Otoe-Missouria, Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, Prairie Band Potawatomi, Quapaw, Rosebud Sioux, Assiniboine Sioux, Calista Corporation, Fort Yuma-Quechan, Sac & Fox, Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation, Seneca Cayuga, Standing Rock Sioux, Shawnee, and Chickasaw. We are active in our Indigenous cultures and take pride that our ancestors lived on and traveled this land for hundreds of years.
Students at Pawhuska High were upset to find out the school board was “still thinking about” the land and flag acknowledgments, and “taking their time,” so the students are taking matters into their own hands. Native American students are planning on going to the next school board meeting to ask questions on the matter. The meeting will be hosted on Monday, March 7.
By using funds given by the federal and state programs provided, what has the school done to show their gratitude to the tribes, students, and community? Public schools should not only recognize the Native land they are on but all the tribes that are represented within their halls.
“Indigenous students do not feel comfortable whenever you can have dress-up days during homecoming and asked to dress like a ‘redneck’ but you cannot have a week during Native American Heritage Month to wear orange for the children lost at residential schools or wear red for Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP) just to show the whole school is united,” said a Pawhuska High School student who wished to remain anonymous.
Students are willing to purchase their tribal flags to hang in the school and are planning to have a peaceful protest if the school board continues to ignore answering the question of land and flag acknowledgments.
Students want to be seen and heard. Stay resilient.
Gianna Sieke is a Pawhuska High School senior interning for the Osage News. She will attend the University of Oklahoma in the fall where she plans to major in Journalism.