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Erasure Hidden in Plain Site

As I was driving my daughter home the other afternoon, I noticed some new signage along stretches of road in Carver county (see below) that immediately caught my attention. According to a press release on the topic, there are 10 signs located throughout Carver county. To me, the erasure of American Indigenous people couldn’t be more blatant.

Highway sign reads: Roadway dedicated to FARMERS and their families Carver County’s Original Caretakers

The Stories We Tell

As a teacher and scholar of pedagogy and language, I know that what I say and present in the classroom has a massive weight upon how our students think and feel about selected topics. But what we don’t say and/or present has just as much weight, if not more, on the public consciousness and the thinking of our young children. One of my favorite quotes from Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois sums up what happens when we only present one side of information when he wrote:

How easy, then, by emphasis and omission to make children believe that every great soul the world ever saw was a white man’s soul; that every great thought the world ever knew was a white man’s thought; that every great deed the world ever did was a white man’s deed; that every great dream the world ever sang was a white man’s dream. In fine, that if from the world were dropped everything that could not fairly be attributed to White Folk, the world would, if anything, be even greater, truer, better than now.

The Souls of White Folk – WEB Du Bois

These signs, and signs like it across the nation are glaring examples of that omission when they use the word “original.” This is a choice, whether conscious or not, that ignores the American Indigenous population from whom this land was stolen.

Some may see this sign as an honor and tribute to one of our countries most underappreciated professions, including the Carver county commissioner when he said, “Farmers and their families were the original caretakers well before our official founding in 1855” during the dedication ceremony. What I see is a choice in language use. By electing to ignore the people from whom this land was taken, settler colonialism is presented as the inevitable product of this country, perpetuating the ideals of manifest destiny. What is more, this erasure also presents indigenous Americans as emphatically NOT American as well as perpetuating the belief (through omission) that American Indians do not exist but are simply a relic of our past to be viewed in a museum.

Not Just a Sign

Educators are not the only conveyors of knowledge in this country. Children, and people in general, are constantly absorbing messages through what is presented in books, movies, advertisements, and all other forms of media. This also applies to what is absent from those mediums. When curriculum in the United States presents all American heroes as white males then that presents the message that everyone else is substandard and has not contributed significantly to this country. The impacts of these types of omissions cannot be understated and should not be taken lightly. In a country where the rate of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls is 10 times higher than that of other ethnicities, where disproportionate populations of American Indians (including juveniles) are in the the criminal justice system, where 1 in 3 indigenous persons live in poverty, we must not ignore the implications of our words and actions.

Dr. Carter G. Woodson once said, “There Would Be No Lynching If It Did Not Start in the Schoolroom.” While I don’t necessarily agree that education could eradicate all racism and/or bigotry, I do agree that much of the ideology and culture of white supremacy come from the culture we pass down both in and out of the classroom; with and without our words.

There are numerous ways that the county could have accomplished its goal of honoring farmers and their families and the very much so underappreciated work that they do without the erasure and misrepresentation presented on these signs.

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