Although November is Native American Heritage Month, for the American Indian College Fund, our tribal colleges, and our students, we celebrate Native heritage every day of the year.
This is because our students and communities know what it means to be without Native culture, heritage, and language–because it was once U.S. government policy to assimilate American Indians, and eradicate these priceless facets of heritage. As a result, generations of American Indians were denied their birthright.
In addition to the overriding moral implications for preserving Native culture and language, there are practical and academic reasons for doing so. Research shows that students who are immersed in their culture perform better academically, have higher self esteem, and lead more productive and happy lives.
The American Indian College Fund, in addition to funding scholarships, also funds tribal college programs that enhance cultural and language preservation. One such program is The Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College (SCTC) Ojibwe Language Revitalization Project at Sagina Chippewa Tribal College, with the goal of strengthening the Native American studies program through the development of a strong, comprehensive Ojibwe language program to help counter the loss of the Ojibwe language on the Isabella and Saganing reservations and the Greater Mount Pleasant area, where it is in grave danger of extinction.
Russell Menefee, a third semester language student at Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College, is instructing kindergarteners through an immersion training program as part of the project. His goal is to work as a guidance counselor with young children in his tribe in both his tribal language and English.
Russell says he has always been interested in languages, and started by learning sign language at the age of 16. “My dream growing up was to be able to speak to anybody,” he says, adding that his motivation stemmed from the knowledge that his father had gone to boarding school when he was a boy, and as an adult could not speak to Russell or his siblings in his Native tongue.
When Russell’s father learned about Russell’s studies and career goals, he said something to Russell in his Native language. Russell says he didn’t understand at the time, but later learned in his classes that his father had said, “I see what you are doing and I am proud.”
Russell says that meant so much to him as a Native man and made him realize the gift he can give others in his tribe: pride in their culture, pride in their personal growth and success, and pride in knowing that they have important contributions to make to their people and the wider world. And that is what the American Indian College Fund and its donors do every day by providing scholarships to culturally based tribal colleges to needy students so that they can succeed while carrying on their cultures, languages, and traditions.
And for that, we say not just thank you, but that we are proud of you for supporting such an important cause and helping people like Russell to help others succeed–not just in November, but every day and month of the year.