WALTHILL — The anguish felt in the recent death in January 2020 of 29 year-old Ashlea Aldrich, an enrolled Omaha tribal member and mother of two toddler boys, has shaken the local Omaha Reservation community in Northeast Nebraska to the core.
Little is known of the actual circumstances of Aldrich’s passing other than alcohol was involved, and her death is still under investigation, but problems in relationships, including domestic violence, are well known throughout Indian Country, as well as in the broader culture.
The two public schools districts that serve predominately Omaha tribal students, Umonhon Nation in Macy, and Walthill Public in Walthill, have also been affected. Both districts, while unique, have problems rooted in the troubled history of both Euro-American and Indigenous cultures, and the students, their parents, administrators, teachers, staff and school board members, all together are aware of this.
The students themselves, especially the girls, acted on their First Amendment rights in requesting school administrators toward expressing their grief and concern both for Ms. Aldrich, and for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), a movement among Aboriginal People that has gained traction throughout the country in recent years.
Hiding behind established policies that in most instances could readily be waivered, the administrators and board members of both schools have struggled with these exceptions, permission to have MMIW T-shirts made to be shared by both schools’ basketball teams, and for honoring MMIW by painting a distinctive red or black hand across their faces during one game held at their respective schools.
Umonhon Nation has yet to decide, while Walthill blatantly dismissed their cheerleading squad, claiming the dismissal had nothing to do with their “unauthorized” but respectful demonstration during halftime of a local basketball game that caught national attention over the last several weeks.
Never mind that at Ignacio High School in Durango, Colorado, the entire girls’ basketball team was photographed in December with the MMIW hand across their faces, and earlier this month were busily preparing a gymnasium with educational materials for an upcoming game whose proceeds would go to a local MMIW group!
It is time that the administrators and school boards of these two local schools wake up to the failure of the 1950s in local parental policies, and address the needs and learning potentials of students in the 21st century, who are more than capable of handling honest, forthright, and adult matters often better than their elders, if given the respect and opportunities to do so.
DR. DENNIS HASTINGS
DR. MARGERY COFFEY
Historical Research Project