Indigenous celebration scrapped by Farmington Schools as protective laws fail again • Source New Mexico

Technology has a way of showing us that despite all its progress, so much remains the same.

While scrolling through social media posts about local news, the NBA playoffs and gardening hacks, my algorithm eventually brought up a cellphone video of someone from Farmington Municipal Schools approaching Genesis White Bull graduate to take her beaded graduation cap. aópazan applied to the top.

What happens next is beyond the scope. A little later, and again in front of the camera, the district employee returns with a simple, new cap, and the aópazan – a Lakota term for a plume or feather worn in the hair – has disappeared.

Everyone has an opinion about what should or should not have happened. That does not matter. What does matter is that White Bull and her mother said the school resource officer cut off her aópazan, a direct attack on the culture they brought to the Four Corners from the Hunkpapa Lakota of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

And what comes next is unclear.

The school district has apologized but would not comment further on the incident, including whether it provided training on a 2021 state law that some say should have prevented the district’s policy of causing harm on a day which should have been a day. celebration. Instead, it appears the district is preparing for what others are discussing as White Bull’s first action: a lawsuit alleging her school district violated her civil rights.

We’ll have to wait and see how that goes.

Another question we’ll have to ponder with some patience: Will lawmakers change that law when they meet at the Roundhouse next year? Because everyone — from the lawmakers who drafted it to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and the president of the Navajo Nation — is calling for better protections for students.

Indian Affairs Secretary Josett Monette and others say more specific language could be added to the current law to make it stronger. (The number will not be present at the special session in July. We asked about it.)

The statute contains specific language to prevent a local district from creating rules or policies that “could discriminate against any student on the basis of his race or culture with respect to his hairstyle or headdress.”

The legislative intent, sponsors say, was to prevent what White Bull experienced during her graduation.

Why didn’t the law protect White Bull?

No one seems to know, and at last check there doesn’t appear to be any legal review by lawyers working for the state government. Neither the attorney general’s office nor the governor’s office have indicated they have legal counsel investigating whether a state law was violated. Legislative intent does not always provide a strong defense for a judge.

Navajo Nation First Lady Jasmine Blackwater Nygren had experience with a similar law when she served as an Arizona state representative. She said the Arizona version of the law specifies that this type of protection is for people enrolled in a Native American tribe and provides more specific language about what are considered cultural items.

While this approach strengthens Arizona law, it should be cautious about how native law is governed. Just about every example of how Indigenous people and their governments exist in this country is codified in some form of federal law. Language, housing, medical services, education, elections and economic policy – ​​it’s all laid out and discussed in the black and white text of American law books.

And yet there are still cases where a young Lakota person about to enter adulthood, a crowning achievement, is harassed by people who think that abolishing indigenous culture to achieve a colonial standard enforcing conformity is a reasonable approach in education.

Genesis White Bull deserves more than an apology. Since technology has brought us yet another example of a border town’s hostility toward the Native American people who live there, let’s make sure we do more than just scroll, share, and testify.


Back To Top