Educating Adults in the Era of Trump

Little Corn of the Mud People and a schoolyard tale on how to make America great again

My granddaughter goes to school in a predominantly non-Indian community which is a mixture of checkerboard lands, Indian and non-Indian scattered in 40 acre parcels across the Uintah and Ouray Reservation in northeastern Utah.

She attends a school within the boundaries of the reservation adjacent to the reservation headquarters, a stone’s throw from the tribal offices there. The Utes are a minority in Utah with just 5,000 souls if you count every single one of them and the rest of the area is predominantly non-Indian. In Navajo, we refer to them as Beligaanas; in Ute, they call them Americuchu and there are 40,000 of them there so they outnumber the Natives by quite a bit.

By chance or by design—take your pick—the Native kids attend one school in the area that sits on the hill above the reservation community, so at this school the Native kids outnumber the non-Indian kids.

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All the kids get along pretty well, but with this last election, Trump carried Utah by a wide margin. The Natives for the most part did not vote for Trump so when he won it sent a shock wave through both communities and this was felt by everyone. Even the kids who go to school there.

My granddaughter got to school early to get breakfast. Most kids eat before classes start. When you come in the building, you pass by the principal’s office and go into the lunchroom. This one morning there was a chair sitting out by the school office door and on it sat a red baseball hat…a Trump hat with the slogan, “Make America Great Again.” No one was sitting around it or by it, but it was in plain sight and everyone gave it a wide berth as they passed it to go eat. As the school day started the hat stayed where it was and no one removed it.

Some kids talked about throwing it in the trash but others—primarily the non-Indian kids—said it’s the hat of the newly elected president so it should stay where it was. In any case, no one—no adult, no teacher, no school official or the principal—removed the hat. The school staff is primarily non-Indian and since no one removed the hat some kids thought maybe it was because the school staff had voted for Trump.

As the school day started, it was as if something had come over the school and kids in each classroom had to choose a side—those for removing the hat and those who wanted it to stay. This division was evident along racial lines. Indians sided with Indians and white kids with white kids, and the seating in each class ended up with Indian kids sitting with other Indian students and white kids with other white kids. A division occurred and it stayed that way as the Trump hat sat on the chair all day.

When lunch came, the kids went to eat in the cafeteria and again Indian kids chose to sit with Indian kids and white kids with their own kind, since the Native kids outnumbered the non-Indian kids, the non-Natives sat around two tables and they ate that way with each group watching the other. Normally, the kids sit anywhere they want, but on this day they sat divided. When it came time to go to recess, they went outside to the playing fields and again the groups were divided by race, with each group looking at the other and murmuring.

One side or the other got to talking and they said things to each other like we should stick with our own kind, and that one side was better than the other, some of the people in each group were saying things like only Indians can come over here, and the other side said only cowboys can play on this side. That is how it was when it started to rain, a slow drizzle, and the kids sat in the rain and watched each other and pools of water formed and it got muddy.

The white kids stood by the slide out of the mud and Native kids were in it. Someone called the Natives mud people, and some kids said we are mud people because we are close to the land—it is our land. So it went. Harsh words were exchanged and each side had its own area.

Some of the older kids could see what was happening and went to the teachers, who said there was no problem. Some kids with cell phones called home and told their parents there was going to be trouble with the school because of the Trump hat. Some parents of the Native kids decided to come to the school to see what was going on.

As this was going on, Homer came in late.

Homer is not a Native but a kid with reddish-blonde hair whose parents work at the local gas station part time. They live in a little trailer house surrounded by the Indian community, so Homer had been raised there with the Native kids. He grew up with them and was poor like them.

Homer came to school after lunch while everyone was at recess and he went to the playing field. When he got to the field, the kids were divided, the non-Indian kids were by the playground equipment and the Native kids were playing on the open field near the mud.

Homer stood there and was wondering where he should go. One older Native girl who had been invited to Homer’s birthday party not so long before all this happened called him over to the Native kids. She knew Homer well. He looked at both groups and went over to the Native kids who said to him, “Homer, you are now a member of the tribe.”

Among those kids were actually several tribal groups—Ute, Navajo, Pueblo, Shoshone, Arapaho, Paiute—actually all kinds of Indians or parts of different Native peoples. The girl who called him over was part Navajo and Ute and she said, “We have to adopt this boy as a member of our tribe.”

So the Native kids gathered around and said yes, we have to make him an official part of us. So they went to a mud puddle nearby and the girl reached down and took a handful of mud and told Homer to kneel down. He looked at the kids around him and knelt down.

When he did that, the girl raised her hand to the sky and said, “We, who have made our own tribe of Indians here on this field, do hereby adopt and name Homer a member of our tribe.”

Intergenerational Trauma: Understanding Natives’ Inherited Pain

Download our free report, Intergenerational Trauma: Understanding Natives’ Inherited Pain, to understand this fascinating concept..

They rubbed mud on his forehead. Each Native kid did the same, and then they said we have to name him an Indian name so that he is known by that name from here on out. One kid called out, “Let’s name him White Belly.”

The kids laughed and said no, that is not a good name. Someone else said, “Let’s call him Little Corn.” The group agreed that is a good name for him and so they told him, “You are now known as Little Corn” and he was named. Just then, the school bell rang and recess was over and the kids ran inside to class. That is how Homer became Little Corn on that playing field on checkerboard Indian lands by a group of Native students.

There is a little more to the story as some parents showed up at the school—some for Trump and some against—and when school let out the kids went out to the parking lot where they were met by BIA police officers who were there just in case there was trouble by some of the parents. There was no trouble. The hat was gone by then…disappeared.

Homer had grown up with the Native kids from the first day of Head Start. Since the day the Trump hat appeared and the Native kids were challenged to declare Homer to be an outsider, he has been known as Little Corn.

This was what the Indian children at one school on a reservation in Utah almost divided by a red hat taught grown-ups about how to make America great again.

Johnny Rustywire is Folded Rocks Clan People on his mother’s side, and born for Tsinahbiltnii, the Mountain People Clan on his father’s side. He comes from Toadlena-Two Gray Hills, New Mexico, where the mountain is cracked and the water flows. He is a father of six and grandfather of 12. He attended Indian boarding schools and grew up on the Navajo Reservation, and has been married to the same woman for 40 years, a Ute from Fort Duchesne, Utah.


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Educating Adults in the Era of Trump