On May 20th our First Graduate student Raziel was Youth Speaker and MC at the SFUSD Indian Education Program’s annual event Wisdom Moving Forward. Raziel is a passionate advocate for the American Indian community in San Francisco, and at age 14 he holds the title of SFUSD Indian Education Parent Advisory Committee Student Representative. His work to promote understanding, diversity and social justice in the SF community and beyond is deeply inspiring to our organization, and we were honored to be invited to this cultural event to see Raziel shine.
Raziel is Sicangu (Burnt Thighs Nation) Lakota from the Lower Brule and Rosebud reservations in South Dakota. He is a Northern Traditional powwow dancer, singer, and speaks Lakota, his native tongue. “Our people get the name Burnt Thighs because our camp was set on fire by enemies one night, but we all made it out alive, just with burned legs,” explained Raziel’s mother Cante Tenza Win, who is the SFUSD Indian Education Parent Advisory Committee Chairperson. “The ‘gu’ part of the word means ‘burned from the outside but not within.’ It’s a story of strength and resilience. We always say our people walked through fire to be here.”
At the Wisdom Moving Forward event, Raziel and his peers were honored for the milestones they had reached at the end of this school year: some students were graduating kindergarten, some, like Raziel, were graduating middle school, and the oldest students in the program were graduating high school. Each graduating high school senior in the ceremony was applauded for his or her specific achievements and qualities, while being presented with a Pendleton blanket. American Indian students have the second highest dropout rate in San Francisco, with only 54% graduating high school. Nationally, only 67% of American Indian high school students graduate compared to the national average of 80%. These numbers are important to why the Indian Education Program honors the milestone achievements of their students with events like Wisdom Moving Forward.
Raziel was the recipient of a special gift at this ceremony. He was presented with an eagle feather, gifted only to honor great achievements. “Eagles are sacred to our people. Eagles fly the highest and take our prayers to the Creator. They can see far beyond others, and carry themselves with dignity,” said Raziel’s mother. It was a great honor for Raziel to receive the eagle feather, and marks an important moment in his growth as a leader.
As the Wisdom Moving Forward event underscored, it is important for educators to create spaces where we celebrate and recognize students at every step of their educational journey, provide opportunities for students to reflect on their growth and identity, and connect students with each other to build a strong network of support. Many students at this event took the chance to say a few words about their time as students in SFUSD and their dreams for the future. One graduating high school student reflected at the event, “Being an American Indian in this urban environment can be very difficult, being so far from your heritage and your culture… It’s communities like [the Indian Ed Program] that help you stay connected to your self identity.” An alumni of the program, Arianna Antone-Ramirez, was invited as a keynote speaker to give encouragement to the younger students in the program and offer insight into her new life as a college student at Augsburg University in Minnesota where she majors in Political Science and American Indian Studies.
First Graduate is proud to have Raziel in our program and honored to be included in his life and community. Our attendance to the Indian Education Program’s 8th Annual Wisdom Moving Forward event was one of many opportunities we hope to have to celebrate our students’ cultures and accomplishments.