Miranda Washinawatok, a 12 year old Menominee student at Sacred Heart Catholic Academy in Shawano, Wisconsin, was suspended from school and school functions for speaking in the Menominee language while in class.
Sacred Heart is more than 60 percent Native American, and is less than 6 miles from the Menominee Indian Tribe Reservation.
When Miranda was teaching a classmate to say “posoh” and “ketapanen” on January 19, her teacher scolded her. Native News Network reported her saying “You are not to speak like that! How do I know you’re not saying something bad? How would you like it if I spoke in Polish and you didn’t understand?” The words Miranda was chastised for translate to “hello” and “I love you” in Menominee.
“Miranda kept saying she was only told by her assistant coach she was being benched because two teachers said she had a bad attitude,” Tanaes Washinawatok, Miranda’s mother, told Native News Network. “I wanted to know what she did to make them say she had a bad attitude.” There is dispute over who actually did the suspending, but the school has admitted it “failed miserably in its handling of the matter.” Deacon Ray DuBois, the communication director for the Diocese of Green Bay, which operates the school, also told Native News Network that the school does not prohibit the use of any language and that “the number one priority is to help this girl.”
Miranda isn’t a troublemaker. Her mother told Native News that she is mature and respectful. Miranda plays basketball and is the team captain of a volleyball team. “When it comes to Native language, Miranda should be proud she learned and can speak her Native language,” wrote Levi Rickert in a February 4 post on Native News Network.
Tara McGregor, a commenter at Nativenewsnetwork.com, says “As a teacher you have a responsibility to be culturally aware of your students and encourage diversity. This is a reminder to all of us that this type of oppression still exists. I hope that this example of ignorance is not forgotten, and we continue to move forward while creating a world that fosters children who embrace their heritage.”
Rhonda LeValdo, of the Acoma Pueblo and president of the Native American Journalists Association, wrote a piece for Native Connection stating Indian country’s support for Miranda. She says: “All Americans need to know about the boarding schools. They need to know how the language was beaten out of many of our elders, so much that their children never learned the language for that fear of them being hurt. This all happened in this country and so many deny the abuses, but it happened.”
What happened to this 12 year old child is wrong. She did nothing wrong, yet she was chastised by staff and ostracized from school functions in which she normally participated in.