The College of William and Mary hosted the Virginia Indian Nations Summit on Higher Education Feb. 18-20, bringing together Native American students from across the commonwealth of Virginia.
In a keynote speech, Karenne Wood, a member of the Monacan tribe, said that the College’s historical role in educating American Indians makes it imperative that the College help to improve the situation of American Indians today. Her speech linked the past with the present by focusing on the education of American Indians over the years.
“It is time to approach American Indian education with integrity and humanity,” Wood said.
According to Wood, the interests of American Indians have been long overlooked, leading to present-day educational disadvantages. Wood said that while 76.2 percent of whites graduated from high school from 2003 to 2004, only 49.3 percent of Native American students did the same. She also commented on the lack of representation of American Indians in higher education, saying that only recently have universities begun recruiting American Indians.
However, Wood said that the problems lie not only in the inequalities of the education system itself, but also in a more general lack of knowledge about American Indians. She said that too many students today are graduating from schools without knowing much about American Indians, which leads them to hold stereotypical attitudes toward American Indians.
Wood also mentioned several educational “injustices” American Indians have suffered at the hands of whites. She referenced the 18th-century Brafferton school at the College, where American Indian enrollment was forced. She also discussed the case of a tribe in New York that refused to send students to school because they recognized that American Indians instructed at Harvard and Yale Universities lacked many of the skills necessary to be productive in Indian society. After citing other injustices, she also mentioned successes, such as the Kennedy Report published in 1969 by the U.S. Senate, which recognized various failures in education of and about American Indians.
Although progress has been made, Wood said that there is still work to be done. She specifically mentioned working to reduce the inequality in education and to increase education about American Indians. According to Wood, increased American Indian education would have many benefits.
“We can come to better appreciate our world,” she said.