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Be nice

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After the Virginia Tech shootings, the whole world mourned, including our world on the Navajo Nation. But when you’re perched on top of a mesa in the middle of a desert, hours from high-rises more than 3- or 4-stories high, it’s easy to feel very far away, no matter how tragic the event.

So while I heard my students express their horror and sadness over the massacre, I knew that some of them didn’t quite comprehend its tragedy. I knew that because I overheard quiet chuckling from several students after one made a crude and completely inappropriate comment about the attack. I was disgusted and angry (and I wrote him up), but luckily my teacher-composure kicked in. I didn’t yell at them. I tried to teach them something instead.

After emphasizing the inappropriateness of the comment, I gathered them all around in a circle. We talked about the shooting, what happened, and how sad it was. But then I told them that I grew up a mere 4-hours away from the city where it happened. And that I knew people who attended the university. And worst of all, my best friend had a close friend who was shot by the gunman. Twice. Once in the stomach and once in the leg.

They were stunned and couldn’t believe me at first. It hit closer to home now that this bad event happened to someone their own teacher had a connection with. They stopped commenting on our discussion and just sat quietly to think. Simply through association, they now knew someone who was shot. Simply through association, they moved closer to Blacksburg.

Now they wanted to know what they could do. They could write condolence cards. They could pray for the families that were affected. But most importantly, they could have empathy and care. This simple task took some students by surprise. But it wasn’t so simple, I pointed out. By having empathy, you’re recognizing that bad things can happen anywhere. So be nice. Show respect. Put yourself in other people's situations. Treat people the way you want to be treated. Explain this to others who may not understand. And remember that being on top of a mesa in the middle of a desert is never too far away.

4 Comments

This is the best commentary I've heard on this event. I am moved. Thank you for sharing this. Whoever gave you your genetic matter, whoever raised you, gave us all a gift. :-)

Jessica, you did a good thing here. I had a similar experience after 9/11. I moved across country after that tragedy to teach in NoCA. On 9/11, schools usually have a remembrance activity. I asked my students how they experienced the attack. Most said that it was just something happening on TV. When I told them that I lived just 9 miles from DC and actually was placing student teachers in MD, but lived in VA, and could not get home because of that event, they listened. You have to cross a bridge to get from MD to VA driving through DC, and in a "war" bridges are often blown-up. The event became very real to them as I told them of my experiences on that day. Teaching students about who we are helps them relate to others with empathy, a very important lesson that cannot be tested on a standardized test.

Just a different perspective:

*A Native Perspective on Virginia Tech Headlines*
Thursday, April 19, 2007**
By Kat Teraji

Bury my heart at Wounded Knee, Deep in the Earth, Cover me with pretty lies - bury my heart at Wounded Knee. Didn't we learn to crawl, and still our history gets written in a liar's scrawl. They tell 'ya "Honey, you can still be an Indian d-d-down at the 'Y' on Saturday nights." lyrics to "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee," written by Buffy St. Marie

"The worst shooting rampage in American history." "Massacre and
Mourning, 33 die in worst shooting in U.S. History," and "Rampage called worst mass shooting in U.S. history." "What first appeared to be a single shooting death unfolded into the worst gun massacre in the nation's history." You've seen and heard these headlines and reports all week as the media provided non-stop coverage of the tragic shooting of 33 people at Virginia Tech University on Monday.

"The worst in U.S. history." Really? It is certainly the worst shooting
on a college campus in modern U.S. history. But if we think it is the
worst shooting rampage in U.S. history, then we are a singularly uneducated nation.
"I can't take one more of these headlines," said Joan Redfern, a member of the Lakota Sioux tribe who lives in Hollister. We met at First Street Coffee to talk while we scanned Internet stories. "Haven't any of these people ever heard of the Massacre at Sand Creek in Colorado, where Methodist minister Col. Chivington massacred between 200 and 400 Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians, most of them women, children, and elderly men?"

Chivington specifically ordered the killing of children, and when he was asked why, he said, "Kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice."
At Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota, the U.S. 7th Cavalry attacked 350 unarmed Lakota Sioux on December 29, 1890. While engaged in a spiritual practice known as the "Ghost Dance," approximately 90 warriors and 200 women and children were killed. Although the attack was officially reported as an "unjustifiable massacre" by Field Commander General Nelson A. Miles, 23 soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor for the slaughter. The unarmed Lakota men fought back with bare hands. The elderly men and women stood and sang their death songs while falling under the hail of bullets. Soldiers stripped the bodies of the dead Lakota, keeping their ceremonial religious clothing as souvenirs.
To say the Virginia shooting is the worst in all of U.S. history is to
pour salt on old wounds-it means erasing and forgetting all of our
ancestors who were killed in the past," Redfern said.
"The use of hyperbole and lack of historical perspective seems all too
ubiquitous in much of the current mainstream media," Redfern said. "My intention is not to downplay the horror of what has happened this week in any way. But we have a 500-year history of mass shootings on American soil, and let's not forget it."
This is only the most recent mass shooting massacre in a long history of mass shootings in a country engaged in a long love affair with firearms and very little interest in gun control.
Let's not forget our history and the richness of our Native roots. While spending time on the 1.5 million acre Hopi Reservation in Arizona, I met families living in homes they have occupied for over 900 years. On the surface, it looks like a third world country: you will observe many homes without running water, travel unpaved roads, and notice that there are no building codes. But sitting in a Hopi home being served a delicious lunch cooked by a proud Hopi working mother, I experienced so much more: the continuity of a long and deep heritage, a sense of the sacred, an artistic expertise, and wisdom about many things that remain a mystery to my culture.
Most of all, may we never forget all those innocent civilian men, women, and children who lost their lives simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, just as the students happened to be this week in Virginia.
May we always remember the precious humanity of these students, but may we also never forget the humanity of those who lost their lives simply for being born people Native to this country.

And this is just the Plains Indians, there were many more to include the Pueblo Indians.

Hi Jessica,
I googled 'hopi' and 'teach' and found your blog. I am looking for some kind of volunteer or job opportunity for the future that would allow me to work with Hopi Indians because I really respect their cultural history and want to learn more about it. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer for 2 years, and believe the best way to learn is to actually live among the people. Let me know if you have any 'ins' on how to get there...

Thanks,
Allison Young

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  • Allison Young: Hi Jessica, I googled 'hopi' and 'teach' and found your read more
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  • Jan: This is the best commentary I've heard on this event. read more

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