I’ve got a fourth grader and apparently it’s some kind of traditional rite of passage for fourth graders to do reports on California Missions. I didn’t have to endure this kind of nasty bastard reporting because I skipped the fourth grade. Don’t get hung up on that part though, I also went to high school on a reservation. My mother is Karuk, a Klamath river tribe that hails from Happy Camp. And I’ll admit that the name of the town is pretty misleading.

The tribes that inhabit my rez have suffered pretty much every day since they laid eyes on their first European. The challenges they face maintaining their shredded culture, fighting poverty and generational socioeconomic depression shouldn’t surprise you, but it probably DOES because kids are still doing freaking fourth grade mission projects. How can we expect to learn from our historical mistakes if we don’t teach actual history?

So, when my fourth grader came home with his mission project paperwork, I tried not to scoff and rage about it. I’m a bad indian anyway. I don’t live on the rez and I’m not living or perpetuating my cultural heritage. Probably because my Mom didn’t do that with me. Probably because my mom was tall, thin, had blue eyes and blonde hair, and nobody believed for a minute that she wasn’t a viking. And since I inherited my mother’s coloring, as did my sister, we were pretty much rolling with our whiteness because no matter how much we said we were native, nobody believed us anyway. Plus, my parents were super busy being hippies.

That bit of background aside, I don’t think you have to grow up on a reservation to know that glossing the role that the missions played in the destruction of native populations is a pretty shady way to teach California History. I mean, the tribe associated with my kid’s mission went extinct. Like dinosaurs, but with people. And that’s a pretty huge bummer, I get it. It might be hard to teach something so shitty; kids are sensitive.

After mulling it over and attempting to find an angle that my son and I both felt comfortable with, we finally settled on the idea that I was going to just have a cow about it with his teacher and get it over with. To his teacher’s credit, she took a class day to explain the other side of the mission project to the kids and I greatly appreciate it. And clearly I need to get in touch with my own roots so that I can then share that with my kids. But still, I can’t help but feel really sad to hear my nine-year-old identify with and defend the Spanish padres. If those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, then we’re setting our children, and our children’s children, up for failure. Down with fourth grade mission projects, up with Native American studies.

And you pronounce it
Hoo-nip-ero not Juna-perro. missions

Sara makes the words happen.