The recent decision made by Tribal Council to make a one-time contribution to Graham County Schools in the amount of $100,000 shows just how much further we have to go as a Tribe. The understanding is that a significant portion of this contribution, some $70,000, will go to improving the visitor bleachers at the football field as well as another $20,000 going towards a new PA system. While this act may seem charitable or well-intended, it displays a deliberate, neglectful, and utter disregard for the improvement of tribal youth’s futures. This begs the question of just how exactly are tribal children supposed to benefit from this contribution?
Placing sports in the same categorical need as education is ridiculously irresponsible and only adds to or inflates the ever growing issue of Native American children falling further behind other demographics in terms of academic achievement. Graham County could be best served with tribal dollars by actually investing it into tribal children, especially when presented with financial opportunities that aren’t usually available for the vast majority of school districts.
For years, sports have played a very big role in the culture of western North Carolina, but at what cost? Most North Carolina school districts still don’t receive the amount of funding they need to service more important activities like extracurricular academic programs, special needs programs, and advanced placement programs to name a few. All of these programs are designed to academically improve students and make them more college ready, something our tribe desperately needs now more than ever. And yet here we are, spending the dollars we do have on something such as this. Native American children are dramatically behind most other demographics, including black and most Hispanic populations, in terms of academic achievement and college graduation rates. This means that every financial contribution can have a negative or positive impact depending on what it’s used for. And, if we start to invest our tribal dollars more wisely we can send a message to surrounding areas that the Tribe is not the neighborhood ATM.
And, while the public school districts of North Carolina can often overlook what monies should be used where, we should know better as a people; as a Tribe – one of the five civilized tribes that were held in such high regard by some of the first Europeans for how well we conducted ourselves and our government. Who knows, maybe we have lost some of our way in the midst of the financial whirlwind we have experienced over the past 20 some odd years. But, that doesn’t mean that we can’t get it back. That doesn’t mean that we can’t look to the future and how we can improve it. Improve our children’s lives and their children lives. But, it has to start somewhere.
Today it starts with our leaders, Tribal Council. We must send a message to our tribal leaders that the future of our children is what’s most important. And, their futures are best preserved in an environment filled with academic opportunity. Education is the key to a fulfilled, happy, and sustainable life, one that can be built upon for future generations as well. While a lot of us may think that in the grand scheme of things that $100,000 isn’t that much since the Tribe operates on a budget in the millions of dollars. But, it is. Every dollar will count. Every contribution, no matter how small, will matter either in a good way or not so good way. But, we have to stand for what’s best. No matter how difficult it may be.