LEARNING AT HOME -- OR WHY HIGH SCHOOL ISN'T ALWAYS NECESSARY AT ALL [HUNTER GRAY/HUNTER BEAR FEBRUARY 13 2004] TRIBALLY CONTROLLED COLLEGES AND MY VERY INTERESTING EXPERIENCES AT NAVAJO [HUNTER BEAR FEBRUARY 16 2004]
LEARNING AT HOME
The other day I happened to mention that my father, a full blood American
Indian, had no high school whatsoever -- but wound up with three higher ed
degrees: BA from the Chicago Art Institute, MA from University of Iowa --
and then, a year and a half beyond that, an MFA from Iowa. I also indicated
that two of our kids did not complete high school and one of those, John
[Beba], only went as far as seventh grade. Maria got through her sophomore
year. Both did very well at university -- as did those who finished high
school: Peter [Mack], Josie, and Thomas.
Is high school always critical? Not always, in my opinion.
I finished high school -- Flagstaff -- but, frankly, almost all I learned I
drew from my on-going family environment: newspapers and magazines,
discussions, and a million or so good books. If I read the Nation and the
Atlantic Monthly from childhood on, I also went through Gone With The
Wind -- every damn word of the Great Fantasy -- when I was in the third
grade. And much, much more.
And there were always all sorts of visitors to our home on the far north end
of Flag -- many of whom camped there: Native leaders [for example, Sam
Akeah, chairman of Navajo Nation frequently stayed at our house when he was
in town]; Native arts and craft people [Fred Kabotie, the Hopi artist and
his family -- and our dear friend Ned A. Hatathli, Navajo]; artists of
revolutionary Mexico [Jean Charlot and his family -- old, old friends]; the
anthropologist Ned Danson -- also known as Ted's father; Richard and
Margaret Carillo, Laguna leaders; civil rights people -- including
Flagstaff's own Wilson Riles; Bill and Rosalie Bonanno -- up from Tucson,
and their by then conventional business enterprises, for a nice rented
summer home at Flag and cool air and to take [in basic anonymity] many art
classes from Dad at Arizona State [one of my brothers was Bill's chauffeur
that summer]. My Navajo brother, Lee Taylor Benally [Benaali], from the
Shiprock area, lived with us for long periods of time as we both wended our
way through public schools at Flag.
Well, you learned a lot indeed in that family -- including how to argue and
fight. And our kids have certainly learned a great deal in this one:
books, magazines, typewriters everywhere and then computers all over, all
sorts of visitors -- heavy on the Native rights and radical activist and
organizing sides. Lots and lots of books: at least 200 fine Indian books
and more than that in the Left radical and labor genre [not counting copies
of my own book, Jackson Mississippi]; signed first editions of all of the
works of William James; Parkman; Gibbon; Western history books; Southern
books; hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of books.
I also have the complete works of Lenin -- 45 volumes [no index]. I had
wanted that ever since I saw It All at the Utah home of my old Army buddy,
Jay Talbot. Jay was Mormon and, with one exception, so was everyone else in
his family. His Dad, however, W.W. Talbot, a former cowboy from Kanab on
the Arizona border and a copper miner at Bingham, was head of the Communist
Party of Utah. He had the Lenin collection, hardbound in Red -- which I
admired hugely -- and he strongly advised me to get it when I could. In
time, I did -- and, when I look at it, I always remember the very good
"Wally" Talbot, a four packs per day chain smoker, who sadly died of lung
cancer when he and much of the family moved to Los Angeles.
Our kids here have read a fair amount of our massive library. They have not
read any of my 12 volumes of Stalin's Works [Volume 6 is missing.] A friend
of mine, Mike Blumenthal, sells books on e-bay. He got me a Complete Run of
the really excellent Labor Fact Books -- 17 compact volumes plus Index,
1931-1965 [New York, Labor Research Association/Oriole Edition/International
Publishers, 1972.] And I paid only 35 bucks for the entire set!
Then he sort of wondered if I could do him a favor -- and take JV Stalin off
his hands. In the end, I gave Mike 20 bucks or so for that set [including
heavy postage.] It's ponderous stuff, which we immediately segregated. I
asked Josie just today if she'd like to explore His take on eliminating
various deviationists -- right and left and many other kinds -- but she
declined, smiling politely.
By the communalistic Will we all in this family drew up in a hospital room
early last September -- with family consensus as the basic process in all
decisional matters, this house [or whatever final house] remains always in
the hands of our family as a whole. That also holds true for our very large
historical and contemporary Native arts and crafts collection; my radical
labor collection drawn mostly from the United States and Canadian West [and
Sudbury, Ontario]; my organizing collection; and my huge library. And some
other things. We'll pass these traditions on to succeeding family
Yeah, and we'll probably keep Stalin, too. Come to think of it, though,
I'll bet ole JV was Real Strong for heavy-handed compulsory public school
HUNTER GRAY [HUNTER BEAR] Micmac/St Francis Abenaki/St Regis Mohawk
In the mountains of eastern Idaho.
When you cut to the bone and cut away the college degrees, academic and other titles, published books and articles, ours is essentially a working class and Indian family. We consistently join unions -- and we always support them with the greatest vigor.
It's critical to always keep fighting -- and to always remember that, if one
lives with grace, he/she should be prepared to die with grace.
TRIBALLY CONTROLLED COLLEGES [NAVAJO]
The attached news story from Lawrence, Kansas
focuses heavily on Haskell
Indian Nations University, a BIA sponsored and funded college -- based at
Lawrence. [It could be viewed as a descendant of the old Carlisle
[Pennsylvania] government Indian School which flourished in the latter 19th
century and early 20th.] Carlisle promoted, almost always very
unsuccessfully [fortunately], assimilation of young Natives.
The first of the tribally-controlled Indian colleges is Navajo Community
College [now Dine' College] which was launched at the end of the '60s,
primarily by my father's art protégé and a very close family friend, Ned A.
Hatathli. I can well remember Ned -- at our Flagstaff home countless
times -- talking about his dream as early as the late '40s: a free and
democratic bi-cultural Navajo college -- controlled by the grassroots. He,
far more than anyone else, brought that to fruition. Another fine Dine'
student of Dad's, Rebecca Dotson, had a similar dream relating to a
community controlled Navajo elementary school -- and she subsequently played
a major role in the development of the Rough Rock school which followed NCC.
Under heavy pressure from the increasingly corrupt administration of Navajo
chairman, Peter MacDonald [who succeeded Raymond Nakai, another old friend
of our family] and from the BIA as well [which put up, directly and indirectly much of NCC's funding], Ned died an abrupt, unexpected and purely tragic death in October 1972 soon after
the campus was moved from Many Farms to relatively remote Tsaile [Say Lee --
Place by the Lake.] The College then went through a series of difficult
internal convulsions -- but was able to continue and to launch the branch
campus at Shiprock. [The College now has several branches]. The noted
Marxist, Phil Reno, a fine friend of Ned's and of mine, taught Econ at
We came to NCC for a several year stint in 1978 -- I to teach in Educational
and Social Sciences and to do several other things. [Eldri wound up teaching
in the almost all-Navajo Tsaile Elementary school.] The president who hired
me had been forced out by the time we actually got there [there were also
two competing deans at that point] and the new president was a BIA-oriented
person who also was an ally of Chairman MacDonald. Within a few months that
president was gone.
Part of my contribution to that departure was speaking for two hours on Ned
and his dream at a very large grassroots Navajo meeting at the Lukachukai
chapter house. As I spoke, a portrait of former tribal chairman Raymond
Nakai -- our old friend -- looked at me from the opposite wall. A new and
much better NCC president was soon hired. I became chair of Educational and
Social Sciences, chair of the Academic Standards Committee, chair of the
Curriculum Committee -- and, for a year, Chair of Physical Education as well
[something of which I really knew nothing -- but PE's factional problems
were pretty heavy though they were all good friends of mine.] I was also
Chair of the Grievance Committee which consistently and fortunately, no
matter how long our deliberations, always found unanimously for the worker
[faculty and staff] and I was among those who set up a Student Court
system -- very friendly to the students, of course -- to keep Chairman
MacDonald's tribal police off our campuses. We were successful on that.
In time, the NCC regents took me and another faculty person [Ursula Wilson,
Navajo] to Washington, DC on a significant lobbying mission. When some
legislators expressed concern about the College's internal situation, we
were able to reassure them -- and I could speak, from some knowledge of
history, of the ups and downs that many colleges and universities had
[including Harvard] during their founding years.
One of the major challenges facing the College, and one handled successfully
by a good number of us, was to ensure that the universities of Arizona, New
Mexico, Utah, and Colorado especially accepted NCC courses on a full credit
basis. I had solid personal connections at ASU and NAU -- and a few at UA.
Other colleagues had the same ties with other regional schools. Anyway,
things leveled off and settled at the College, which like the Dine' people
[now 250,000 with a Res bigger than West Virginia], has survived and grown
nicely. It presently has a total of about 2,000 students, most of them
We also fought the uranium companies and "all their wicked works."
Chairman Peter MacDonald eventually went to jail. He is now out, pardoned
by Clinton early in 2001, but is pretty much just history.
NCC/Dine' College has always had its own basic funding legislation [the
Navajo Community College Act] -- the other tribal colleges, now close to 35
or so -- are on another arrangement. This has disturbed a few of the other
colleges [not all, by any means] -- but I am always with the Navajo on all
these things. Another unique feature in the NCC/Dine' College situation is
that its budget always provides for special protective ceremonies by
medicine men -- something of which I and everyone else certainly approve.
I give all the tribally-controlled colleges high marks. North Dakota has
four -- at Standing Rock, Fort Totten, Turtle Mountain and Fort Berthold.
Transfer students from those schools have generally done quite well at UND
and other universities.
And quite rightly, the basic leadership of all of these tribal colleges is
always Native -- and representative of the respective tribal nations they
Hunter Gray [Hunter Bear] [formerly John R Salter, Jr] Micmac/St Francis
Abenaki/St Regis Mohawk