Dr. Edward Valandra spent a lot of time in the classroom as a student, and understands why it is important to have people who look like you in the front of the room. But for Native communities, the fight for educational equity might not look like what is often pictured.
“Speaking as an Oceti Sakowin Oyate citizen, ending educational inequity is based upon how my nation defines education. Because we are coerced into incorporating non-indigenous, mainstream standards in our K-12 schools, the standards and white cultural assumptions embedded in them are at great odds with who we are as sovereign people. That is the educational inequity we speak of.”
Dr. Valandra has used his time with LEE — including at a National Organizing Workshop — to help him gain the resources to continue his fight for educational equity for students in the Native community.
“My involvement with LEE provides not only opportunities to meet like-minded people who are committed to social or restorative justice, but LEE also provides a rare space for Native peoples to share our stories and experiences about educational inequities like boarding schools in the States and residential schools in Canada that have shaped our perceptions of education. I also appreciate that other LEE members share their personal stories and the actions they took to directly challenge and change inequity. The personal narrative invokes empathy which I find helps build meaningful relationships and solidarity.”
He believes in the partnerships he has gained through his participation in LEE programming, and often feels encouraged by the work being done.
“A common thread that we share with our sisters and brothers from other marginalized communities is educational inequity and its role in community underdevelopment. LEE recognizes inequity’s cause and effect, and it therefore provides safe harbour in which to build alliances or coalitions with fellow brothers and sisters who incorporate justice into their work and personal life. I have returned from LEE gatherings knowing that we are in the throes of social transformation, one that is deeply felt but difficult to adequately express because of its complexity.”
Today, he serves as the Institutional Development Planner at St. Francis Indian School. There he helps design policy, create strategic plans and does outreach to his community. His work day typically involves imagining, proposing and facilitating initiatives that work to solve important school and community issues that play a role in educational equity.
“The late Wilma Mankiller, a Cherokee citizen, correctly summed the challenge before us: ‘The war for Indian children will be won in the classroom.’ Given our colonized status, asserting our educational sovereignty is the antidote for ending educational inequity.”
Dr. Edward Valandra (TFA South Dakota ‘16) holds a doctorate in Native American studies.