October 25, 2012Vol. 43, Issue 2

Indian Youth Speak

California Indian Conference

California Indian Voices: Listening to Youth

Sustaining the Circle of Knowledge: California Indian Voices in Education and Film was held Sept. 28 in the BMU. The conference grew directly out of the 2011 California Indian Conference. This year’s conference specifically targeted youth aged 15 to 25, educators, and those who oversee the education departments of tribes, particularly in the North State. To that end, a panel of students from Ipakanni School near Oroville, Four Winds Charter School in Chico, Lassen High School, Susanville Rancheria, and Butte College answered questions about their lives, their hopes, and their experiences.

Tribes represented included Tyme Maidu, Yahi Maidu, Konkow Maidu, Yahi Maidu, Estom Yumeka Maidu, Potawami, and Hoopa.

Marlon Cason speaks during youth panel. Photos by Erik Aguilar.

Marlon Cason speaks during youth panel. Photos by Erik Aguilar.

Ipakanni Early College Charter School’s philosophy is rooted in Maidu philosophy—that it is everyone's responsibility to love, honor, and protect Mother Earth. Learning the Maidu language is a key part of Ipakanni’s curriculum. Paul Cason, Tyme Maidu, is an endangered language advocate and teacher. He presented an overview of what he calls a revolutionary approach to teaching language, “Where Are Your Keys?” He introduced the method, and students from Ipakanni demonstrated how the “come play a game and learn a language” system works.

Michael Hedrick, from the Tyme Maidu tribe, moderated the panel. Hedrick explained, “We are a prideful people, and it is sometimes hard to speak our word, so I acknowledge what a courageous thing these young people are doing.”

The members of the panel were Gabrielle Garcia, Gabriela Scism, Honesty Grigsby, Rebecca Brown, Braun Conner, Amelia Stone-Schlessmeyer, Spencer Hill, Jason Kawada, Joe Schreber, Kayla Heape, Marlon Cason, Isabella Garza, Alejandra Mendez, Kyona Mitchum, Gavino Mitchum, and Kennicia Trejo.

Below are the questions posed by Hedrick and some of the answers provided by the students.

What does it mean to “Sustain the Circle of Knowledge?”

  • To keep passing on the culture. Without a foundation, you can’t call yourself a people. It is keeping the culture alive.
  • When a language and a people’s culture die out, it’s like they’ve become extinct. By keeping the language, the people will be preserved.
  • It is remembering ancestors and how hard they fought for all of us.
  • It is a link in a chain.
  • It is a key to opening doors.
  • Knowledge is one thing that can’t be taken away from you. You share that with your family and people.
  • New knowledge opens eyes. When I sit next to tribal members, I learn who I am.
  • I’m amazed that my parents and grandparents could hold on to the language when they were being punished for using it.
  • If someone knows her culture, she can be a role model. She can pass on the dances to her sons and daughters.
  • Knowledge helps me go on the right road.
  • Sustaining knowledge means sitting and listening. Your elders will tell you. You absorb what they are saying and pass it on. I’ve learned stories and dances.
  • It means furthering your education, but still staying rooted in your culture, staying with people and remembering the importance of ancestors.
Paul Cason, Maidu language teacher

Paul Cason, Maidu language teacher

What is it like to grow up as Native American in 2012?

  • I think we’ve assimilated into society. In some ways it is good, but in others it means to become a part of a society that conflicts with tribal traditions.
  • Rough. I deal with a lot. People say, “You are spoiled. You are an Indian. You get a check.” I am determined to prove the stereotype wrong.
  • In some ways we get more benefits, especially than our parents did. I got to go to Four Winds School because I was Native American.
  • In the past, I heard that it was hard for Indians to graduate. I want to prove statistics wrong. Now college, then a job. Doors open, and I will be the person who succeeds.
  • I am not experiencing problems like I did in the Midwest. People blamed us for things just because we were Native American. Here (in California) it is much better. More accepting.
  • Now things have changed. Different from the persecution our parents and grandparents experienced. Now people want to be Native American.
  • I’m many things, including Mexican and Native American. Being Native American gave me opportunities. I keep my head up. I’ve learned so much from my grandma.
  • People have many prejudices about being Native American—that they are alcoholics and not educated. I am proud. I am going to beat the statistics and not be those things.
  • Everything has changed. I was beat up in 2002. Now, we are the fad, like skinny jeans. We’re the cool thing. Sometimes it is difficult to overlap worlds. I’m proud to be a Native American. We are not a stereotype in a movie.
  • I was raised by my grandparents. I’m thankful for a roof overhead, food, and being together.
  • Now that we have basic needs met, kids need emotional support and support for bettering ourselves.
  • I’m honored to have rights that our ancestors didn’t. It is easier for us. I’m glad to learn how it was. It makes me humble.
  • I am glad to be going to this school and learning Maidu. I live in a tire shop, so it has been hard. 
  • We shouldn’t take things for granted. I can be contented and give back. I will always have a home with Mother Earth.

What are your hopes for the future? What is missing that would help you fulfill your dreams?

  • Go to college. Teach native language.
  • Graduate and be a veterinarian. Culture is missing.
  • Work to keep language alive. Help other tribes.
  • Be a great musician and composer.
  • Learn about literature and music. Have time to indulge my passions.
  • Communication is missing. We are one giant family. We walk on the same earth. We need to find a place we can meet.
  • My goal is to be a human rights and property rights lawyer. In 1492, Native Americans had rights to the land. What happened? I want to improve all native tribes; make it easier to grow up. People assume everything is OK, but archeologists have artifacts and bones and many people don’t have their land.
  • I’m a musician and a guitarist. I want to give back. There isn’t enough on the reservation for youth to do.
  • I want to go to college to get my degree in Native American Law. Help fight for what is right.
  • I want to get a baseball scholarship. I want too set an example for others. There are so many politics in the tribe now. Relationships are broken. I want to repair relationships.
  • I want to become a language teacher or a veterinarian.

Following the panel and Cason’s presentation, three films produced by Brian Brazeal, Anthropology, were premiered: A Man Called Ishi, California Indian Voices, and Bound to Tradition. Each film focuses on a different aspect of California Indian culture. Beginning Oct. 18, KIXE TV Channel 9 began airing the three films produced by the Advanced Laboratory for Visual Anthropology at CSU, Chico. California Indian Voices will air Oct. 25 at 9 p.m., and Bound to Tradition is scheduled to air Nov. 1 at 9 p.m.

For questions about the conference contact Amy Huberland at ahuberland@csuchico.edu or 530-898-5438.

Homepage Photo: Jason Kawada and Rebecca Brown were members of the Indian Youth panel.

—Kathleen McPartland, Public Affairs and Publications