What kind of world do we live in when school shootings are commonplace, predictable even? In June, CNN reported that there were 74 school shooting incidents in the past 18 months, since the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Connecticut. Some of the incidents (where a gun was fired in or around school property) were drug or gang-related, personal, or accidental. But 15 of them were premeditated, mass murders, where there were “situations similar to the violence in Newtown or Oregon —a minor or adult actively shooting inside or near a school.” That averages out to one major shooting every 5 weeks, CNN says.
The shootings don’t seem to occur along racial or even economic lines. The Oct. 24th shooting at Marysville Pilchuck High School in Everett, Washington, however, occurred in a Native American community where apparently all the victims and the shooter were members of the Tulalip Tribes. That, it could be argued, makes this one different.
The shooter, Jaylen Fryberg, was not a likely murderer. He was not a social misfit, and he was active in his culture. As Native people, we believe that raising our children with traditional cultural values will contribute to their self-esteem and teach them right from wrong. We believe that infusing them with the teachings handed down to us—the wisdom of our elders—will give them things that the dominant culture can’t give them.
But those teachings still come within the context of a larger dominant culture. It is a culture saturated with violent images, desensitizing our children from the moment they enter the world. It’s a society with the highest incarceration rate in the world, and a foreign policy based on ideological domination—modern day colonialism. And it’s a society teetering on an environmental catastrophe that will likely play out in our children’s lifetimes.
The Tulalip community refuses to make the shooting about race. It’s simply not necessary. The point is that our society is failing our children. We know it, and they know it. School shootings are just one of the manifestations of that tragic knowledge.