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Native American leader, former Oakland activist, dies at 64

Wilma MankillerWilma Mankiller, the first woman to be elected chief of a major American Indian tribe — the Cherokee Nation — was once a Bay Area resident and a strong advocate for Native American children in Oakland’s public schools. She died Tuesday in Oklahoma at age 64.

In our library, I found a small envelope stamped “MANKILLER, WILMA/ INDIAN LEADER, OAK.”  Inside were several articles, including a Tribune story from January 9, 1977. Susan Shoemaker, then an education writer for the newspaper, reported that Mankiller and other Native Americans “believe the school district simply does not care about their children.”

“Oakland public school services are just inadequate for American Indian students,” Mankiller was quoted as saying.

Mankiller was director of the Native American Youth Center in East Oakland, and according to Shoemaker’s story, she also worked to rebuild the Oakland school district’s Native American programs after its two coordinators quit at the same time. Does anyone know the status of that program today? I can’t find information about it, if it does exist.

I’m interviewing some people this afternoon who worked with Mankiller in the 70s. If you knew her, or if you have photos of her in Oakland, please contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Nextset

    I don’t remember the context of Ms Mankiller’s (1977) statements about OUSD not caring about the Native Indian students. Does anyone have info on this? I’m not surprised that someone would think it so. The real question is does OUSD care about any of the students and their futures – then or now (as opposed to OUSD’s leftist politics and policies which they care about a great deal).

    Is there any significant Native Indian population left at OUSD for anybody to have to think about anyway? Is the cash flow from the Casino entitlement enough to place all the registered Native Indians in good private schools – and take care of the issue that way?

  • Katy Murphy

    In 2008-09, there were about 175 OUSD students who identified themselves as American Indian. That’s about 0.4% of the student population. I don’t know how much larger it was back in the 60s and 70s, but I believe it was pretty small back then, too. The people I talked to said that was the challenge, as they saw it: that these kids, some of whom had recently lived on the reservation, found themselves in cities where they were the only American Indian in the class, or in the school.

    That was the point of the government’s Indian Relocation Program (in the 1950s and 60s), as I understand it — to integrate rural American Indians into cities. But it was often a difficult, and isolating, transition. Janet King, from the Native American Health Center, told me that kids were dropping out in elementary school at the time.

    I wrote a news obituary about Wilma Mankiller that is running in tomorrow’s paper, I believe. It’s online now: http://bit.ly/9noH4c

  • Nextset

    Hmmm. The principal Indians I see around CA are the Native Mexican Indians who appear in the cities with little or no English, a huge can-do attitude and a love affair with alcohol. Managing & supporting them is a huge social service problem – made more problematic by the criminalization of their lifestyle (driving cars illegally 3 different ways, underage sex, alcohol/drug activity, tax noncompliance, truancy, CPS problems, immigration law violations). Some of these habits persist in the USA born in this group. What is OUSD to do about it?

    A case I know of involved a plea by a nice young Mexican Indian adult-boy who’s been here since age 9 and was kept out of prison for driving a getaway car. Somehow the immigration consequences to the green card got away from the defendant (they expected no consequences) and he is being held for deportation. If he is actually deported (they’re fighting it) and sneaks back “home” he supposedly facing a 20 year term for returning after deportation. This is the only home he’s ever known and all his relatives and friends are here. What to do…

    When I was at UC a long time ago I had a Mexican classmate on a green card who was brought in as a baby. I asked him when he was going to file for citizenship, he said “never”. I told him that the green card can be revoked anytime things change in the future – he replied “that would never happen”.

    Actually, one bad day of DUI, common-law wife beating, possession of something bad, cheating on your taxes, etc, etc, and it very well does happen (very easy to get a felony DUI – run into something/one). I have seen first time criminal convicts, middle aged with children, men and women heading through the door in custody with immigration holds pending deportation. I have no problem with this including for the nonviolent crimes – if anything the process should be faster. What bothers me is the carelessness with which people throw away their (and their typically American Kids) settled lives over nothing because they were never trained to use (some) prudence or caution in how they live their lives.

    Another familiar reply to the why don’t you file for citizenship is “It costs money, maybe $300″… Oh well.

    To the thread – the USA and CA has more problems nowadays than what to do with Native Indians. Indians (and everybody else) had better take care of themselves. No one else is going to. While it lasts maybe the casino $$ will help. If the Indians or any other group make lifestyle decisions and have problems thereafter, OUSD and the other urban school districts are not here to play social worker. Their mandate is appropriate education (as in literacy etc) not life coaching. I would like more emphasis on training the adolescents on morals, deportment, sanitation, shunning trash, etc. I think the schools once went there, but had to stop when multiculturalism arrives lest the multicults were made to feel bad or told to change anything.

    I’m not trying to Hijack Mankiller’s thread this was about her commentary that OUSD didn’t do enough for Indians. I’m still not clear on what she wanted or if there were enough Indians to be concerned about in the first place (less than half of a percent doesn’t warrant their own lunchroom table). It does seem clear to me that (ethnic) Mexican Indians do have the numbers to warrant their own schools or programs. Perhaps a Charter would spring up to peel off those students into their own segregated campuses so they can have things their way. Does “taking care” of a minority lead to segregation? Well, YES. Is that what we should do or want to do? It seems so. I’d personally prefer not to and have people assimilate.

    I’m sure OUSD always thought it was doing the best it could by these kids under the circumstances. The public schools are not funded or in place to treat and pay for social problems. If the schools can’t even afford school nurses anymore (We had them when I was there) how can they handle the other social problems?

    Brave New World.

  • http://perimeterprimate.blogspot.com/ Sharon Higgins

    A feature like this is very likely to bring up the American Indian Public Charter School in people’s minds, so here’s some background about that school from a Nov. 2001 East Bay Express article (“Beating a New Kind of Drum: A back-to-basics educator creates fresh hope for students at the American Indian Charter School” http://emilywilsonreports.com/pdfs/ebexpress%20beating%20a%20different%20drum.pdf):

    AIPCS was created in 1996 with the mission of improving the dismal performance of Native Americans in the Oakland schools. Martin Waukazoo, executive director of the Native American Health Center, helped establish it. The school wasn’t doing well in its early years, so the district sought new leadership.

    Evelyn Lamenti of the school district’s Office of Indian Education knew Ben Chavis from when he had taught at San Francisco State and recruited him from the University of Arizona. He took over leadership of AIPCS in June 2001.

    According to the article: “Chavis is proud of the school’s new focus, and scornfully refers to the people who ran the school before him as ‘drum beaters.’ “They didn’t start school till 9:30 because they said Indians couldn’t get up early,’ he said…”

    And, “Waukazoo said when he finally returned to the school, the changes were dramatic. ‘When I went there
    last year I almost got knocked over by the kids,’ he said. But during a recent visit, it was another world.
    ‘I couldn’t believe it — a kid walked up to me and shook my hand and said ‘Welcome to our school.’ He
    was walking with pride, proud to be a Native American.’”

    You might now wonder about the school’s American Indian enrollment trend (AIPCS #1, Code 6113807:

    Pre-Chavis: 1996-97 = 100%, 1997-98 = 91.2%, 1998-99 = 72.3%, 1999-00 = 38.9%, and 2000-01 = 64.7%

    Chavis-era: 2001-02 = 42.5%, 2002-03 = 25.9%, 2003-04 = 22%, 2004-05 = 18%, 2005-06 = 13.3%, 2004-05 = 18%, 2006-07 = 3.4%, 2007-08 = 2.6%, and 2008-09 = 1.6%.

    Chavis resigned as principal in June 2007, and is now listed on the website as “Chief Executive for training and implementing the successful American Indian Public Charter School model in schools.”

    Dramatically declining Native American enrollment doesn’t stop this school from being thought of as a school for Native American students. The school’s website intentionally perpetuates the myth by saying, “The focus of AIPCS is excellent student attendance (99.5%), which helps to ensure the academic needs of American Indian students and others interested in attending our school.” Uh-huh.

    It’s even featured in a Native American policy journal in the Fall of 2003 when its American Indian enrollment was only 22%. http://facstaff.uww.edu/mohanp/NAPNNL_F03.html

    As Arnold Schwarzenegger said when he visited the school, “It is an education miracle.” Uh-huh, right.

  • Nextset

    Sharon: I recently visited two Northern CA Indian Casinos to see some Indians. I didn’t find any. What I did see was in one case a Jewish General Manager and in both cases a casino complex with Asian patrons predominating – with poor whites as fill, with poor whites as the employees (with enough smoke in the air to burn the eyes). The Indians must have been in a meeting.

    And that’s the way it goes in this Brave New World.

    The Native Indians might be statistically significant elsewhere, say closer to the border of Canada or North Dakota or such. As far as the Bay Area goes, forget it. We as a society aren’t in business to worry about every tiny minority and their wishes anyway, we have bigger problems avoiding collapse of this nation as a whole. Simply put, the Native Indians are important to mainly themselves and they are probably busy right now with their own political/economic housekeeping. The casino franchises are manna from heaven. Hope they can hang onto the money and doubt they will for long (the lesson of history).

    I submit that the “Indian” in both the Casinos and the School were always just a cover for some people to make a lot of money. Not that I have a problem with the AIM school. I think Chavis has done well and is on to something. But the “Indian” thing is just a cover. Smart Man…

    I have known a person who put together a grant funded education project. He laughed when he described how they manipulated the stats by selection of the candidates for admission. All they had to do was get rid of certain people and sit back and watch the stats go up. It’s EASY. Then they claim they are producing miracles with the chillun. I suppose they are.

    Remember how my old employer in downtown Oakland explained to me how they would not hire blacks from OUSD, only those with Catholic School backgrounds. You could do the same thing by pulling candidates from a program who were both black and from military parents. You just manipulate your pool so although you are dealing with the oppressed & disadvantaged & targeted you are deliberately cherry picking within that group to draw only on a subset known to have above average numbers. “It’s a miracle”. And there’s a sucker born every minute who will buy into it – especially if it is what they want to hear anyway.

    Anybody remember the frats and sororities and the brown paper bag test? Same point.

    In the Brave New World people are selecting into these castes and milking it for all it’s worth. Kind of like Adam Clayton Powell IV (Son of the notorious NYC Black Congressman by his Puerto Rican employee/girlfriend/3rd wife) in New York City, who is not recognizable as black/mullatto whatsoever. But he does have the name. And now he’s after a congressional seat. He may get it too. Fortunately the other ACP IV (his half brother by a black wife who does look black) is not a politician.

    Once you have the minority set asides, affirmative action and protected status you tend to get all these games and otherwise inexplicable behaviors by everybody. And the related manipulation of Stats. It’s really not a problem if it’s all literally true, is it?

  • Chauncey

    sounds like you are due for another 3 month vacation Sharon, to visit native lands which will make you an expert on Native needs similar to your Mexican reality tour.

    Your veil is weak.

    Liying with stats is easy!

  • P. Makela

    I’m a retired Union Rep. 1996! We always made it work with our employers…what’s your problem? More money at every turn with teachers that don’t do their job and don’t care? I belive the attitude with teachers in the Oakland Schools System is about the same as at any Post Office you try to do business with. They move like a “snail” and don’t give a shit how long the line is in the lobby. 4 windows in the Post Office and 1 open. Now, draw a line with that and the Oakland teachers. They’re not teachers who care about students
    ….they’re money hunger looking for an easy “buck”.
    Most do….but, alot of them ‘ought to be “fired”!

  • B Wise

    Just finished reading Trail of Tears. It should be required reading. The karma we must endure as a nation may be upon us. Mother Nature’s fate may have been better if the NAtive AMericans had not been vanished. Thanks Sharon, for exposing The NAtive AMerican Charter School. I was about to be taken in. Also, P. Makela, thanks for your honesty. Many teachers I’ve seen over 15 years in SF, Oakland and Daly City do indeed deserve to be fired. I can never get tenured because I point out the emperor has no clothes whenever possible and advocate for special ed children. Unions do nothing for non-tenured teachers and as soon as an administration, (led by the nose by a top heavy bureaucracy ultimately controlled by big business) is threatened with exposure, your ass is grass despite parent and student satisfaction.