The Pacific Islander conflict between the individual and the collective

Slideshow and story by ANTHONY SCOMA

In 2017, the United States had the highest GDP (gross domestic product) in the world at $19.42 trillion, based on information gathered by the International Monetary Fund. But that wealth has not been felt across the board by the American population.

According to a survey conducted by the Federal Reserve Board in 2016, wealth disparities between upper-income families and lower- and middle-income families are at the highest levels ever recorded.

This unprecedented gap between the wealth of the richest and poorest in America is paralleled by a national sense of division. The Pew Research Center has reported that across political and racial lines, there is growing disagreement over what the U.S. should be and do.

Inequality of wealth and political polarization may reflect something foundational to the ethos of the U.S., which is the placement of the individual interest over the collective good and the resulting interpersonal conflict. This elevating of individual interests may be especially glaring to Pacific Islanders and other immigrants, whose cultural practices emphasize the collective over the individual.

Te Anu Tonga, a U.S. immigrant with Tongan and Maori parents, grew up in Utah and is well aware of the clashes between the worldviews that define U.S. and Pacific Island cultures.

“The biggest thing that I see between the two worlds is — there is no ‘I’ in communal/tribal cultures … there is only ‘we,’” she said. “I was always brought up to think and care about others before myself, to always take care of others before myself.”

These rival lessons are instilled at an early age. The importance of sharing is taught to nearly every child through examples of toys and food, but what and how much must be shared differs significantly across cultures. Tonga recalled times as a child when the obligations of Pacific Islander culture felt like a burden.

“Growing up when I went to school … some of my cousins were there too,” she said. “And if I had food in my bag, I’d always watch out for my cousins because if I saw them, I knew I would have to share. … If we have one cookie and seven people, we are going to split it seven ways.”

These childhood lessons have important applications in adulthood. Maryann Tukuafu, the manager of Pacific Seas Restaurant, shared a story over a phone interview about the good that mutual aid can achieve.

“I’ve got a first cousin of mine that lives with us. I took her in about a year and a half ago,” she said. “She was pretty much destitute, just barely graduated from high school. Just with my husband and I’s support, she’s now a sophomore at SLCC (Salt Lake Community College) and getting ready to go to the [University of Utah] in the fall and doing well.”

However, this readiness to provide aid to family and friends can be an obstacle to achieving success in the individualistic world of U.S. business. Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou is executive director of Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR), a community organization that provides business education, networking and other resources to prospective Pacific Islander businesses. She spoke about how the Pacific Islander collective mentality has to be deferred to run a successful business.

In meetings, she said in a phone interview, the goal of PIK2AR is just to educate the participants on “the systems of America and … the business-owner understanding that if you want to be successful, that means you can’t just give away your products for free or services for free to all your family members.” She added, “We have to change that idea within our community that we need to pay for these services if we want to help those businesses grow and stay around.”

Feltch-Malohifo’ou also recognizes the problems that can arise from prizing individual interests over all else. She spoke about how cultural individualism drives the mass accumulation of money for its own sake, causing the wealth disparity that we see reflected in the U.S. economy. In contrast, she pointed out how Pacific Islanders view money as a means to address the needs of family and friends at the moment. But that can lead to giving too much away. She attributes these cultural differences to what motivates our actions in society.

“The motivation in America is money, the motivation for Pacific Islander homes are God, church and family,” she said. “So I think that both can learn from each other. Pacific Islanders need to learn about financial literacy and … the line between enabling and helping.”

Feltch-Malohifo’ou also said that this line, and the larger Pacific Islander question of whether to embrace the collectivism or individualism, comes down to the individual and their family and what works best for them.

Lani Taholo, director and owner of Child and Family Empowerment Services, agreed that the individual and collective perspective are not absolutes within the Pacific Islander community.

“I believe that it works on a continuum between co-dependence, interdependence and then independence,” she said. “I think that when the Pacific Islanders work on an interdependent fashion, that is when we are at our best.”

Taholo went on to explain that at both ends, codependence and independence, there can be a loss of identity. Codependence leads to a loss of individual expression and creativity when the individual is lost in living solely for others or relying on others. On the other end, complete independence leads to a loss of the part of identity that is formed out of being a part of a greater whole or community.

Taholo says that to achieve interdependence, one must have a sense of individual identity and goals but also acknowledge how one is connected to others economically, socially and spiritually.

This acknowledgment that there is danger in extremes of both the American and Pacific perspectives was echoed by Te Anu Tonga, who is currently working on a film that documents traditional Maori dances and seeks to start a conversation on how to preserve these practices for the future.

“Being a collective is beautiful and wonderful, but there needs to be order in it as well,” she said. “Being able to help your community but … sacrificing your family to do that.” She expressed her dismissal of this idea with a simple, “No.”

“On the other extreme,” she said, “not sharing at all because you’re taking care of yourself to me is so sad because it reflects this fear or philosophy of scarcity.”

While Tonga acknowledges the fault of each extreme, she believes that there is a middle path that can be found between the two mindsets when it comes to new generations.

“I don’t believe we are meant to move forward in our lanes,” she said. “Because that’s not fair to the younger generations, because [traditions] are meeting in every way and form from school to social media. … And that blending is powerful, it has the potential for a new culture that none of the nations have ever seen before.”

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Strong spirited Islanders strive for freedom in the “land of the free”

Story and photos by HANNAH CHRISTENSEN

Pacific Islanders who leave their homes and villages in search of a better life in Utah often experience culture shock and feel “stuck,” with no idea of what to do next.


Martha and Mike Meredith at their home in Millcreek, Utah.

Mike and Martha Meredith are Pacific Islanders who have overcome many social barriers in order to be living comfortably in Millcreek, Utah. Martha vividly remembers her father cutting down and cracking coconuts in Tonga and then watching her mother clean them out. Martha was 10 when her family left Tonga and moved to New Zealand.

That’s where she met Mike. Mike was born in American Samoa but grew up in European Samoa until his family moved to New Zealand when he was 13. Martha recalled, “My family went through several migrations, first among the islands, then in New Zealand, and finally to America. My sister came first, then my parents. Mike and I were married and we had two little children and a third on the way when we came. We had no idea what on earth we were getting into.”

These migrations seemed so natural for their families, Martha explained, but when they got to America and it was so vastly different, they felt isolated and trapped. They weren’t sure how to assimilate while remaining true to their cultural practices.

Matapuna Levenson, a lead advocate at the Salt Lake Area Family Justice Center, said, “Culture is living. It is not stagnant. We don’t stay the same. Pacific Islanders are navigators. We were the greatest ocean navigators in the world. We are explorers. So the idea of just staying the same, staying in one place, staying in one mindset, is so contradictory to the values that our culture is perpetuating and encouraging, what our ancestors were hoping for us.”

And now that these navigators are here, pursuing the American dream, what can they do? Where can they turn for help?

Jake Fitisemanu Jr., a clinical manager with Health Clinics of Utah, Utah Department of Health, said it is difficult for Pacific Islanders to navigate a social system that has completely different values because they aren’t sure how to do their part. In a village, everyone has their role and every role contributes to the overall wellness of the village.

According to the Utah Department of Health, “the overall proportion of NHPIs (Native Hawaiian Pacific Islanders) in Salt Lake City is greater than [in] any other city in the continental U.S.” One would assume that having a larger population would mean people have a community, a place to go, individuals who want to help. But what happens when those who came before you still feel adrift and disillusioned?

Fitisemanu wants to empower people who feel misplaced or lost. “I’m interested in mobilizing communities for political power, because this is the United States, that’s how it works here.” Fitisemanu sees the bigger picture after working for the government in the health department and as a city councilman for West Valley City. If the goal is getting Pacific Islanders to feel comfortable utilizing resources, then including them in the governing structure is one good way to do that.

Mike Meredith is another advocate for Pacific Islanders. He served on an advisory board for the Pacific Island community in Utah that focused on ways to improve education and resources for their communities. Because of his service on the board, Mike knows the issues that make it difficult for Pacific Islanders to start looking for resources, even if they are available.

“Especially in Utah, there’s a vast window that is open for them,” Mike said. “But one of the fears is picking up the phone, calling and setting up an appointment or approaching where there is help and seeking that. But it’s not really fear, it’s just something that’s in them, because they’ve lived in villages. You can go from home to the beach and throw in a fishing rod. Where here it’s wide open. They don’t know where to go or who to talk to.”

While it is true that the Pacific Islander population creates a place for tribal identification and emotional resources, Mike said there is confusion about how the American educational system applies. “The old tradition comes into this country and it’s difficult. Folks come in and think ‘you should have your kids finish school and then send them to work.’ That’s what we did back home. But that’s not the case that’s required here. To grow and progress you need education.”

Mike added that Pacific Islander parents lack the understanding of the benefits of graduating from college and entering the professional workforce. The family culture creates alternatives to college graduation and training required for high-level jobs, resulting in economic instability. The impact on families without sufficient financial stability affects all aspects of life — housing, medical care, food security — not to mention future school and work opportunities.

The Merediths are an exception because Mike was able to graduate with a degree in engineering and have a prosperous career. But he says this ethos was not easy to pass along even to his own children. And it is much more difficult for parents who feel at sea here in the high desert of Utah. Yet he still believes that Pacific Islanders can have it both ways — in his case American prosperity, along with a strong commitment to the values, mythologies, rituals and symbols at the heart of his Samoan-Maori culture and Martha’s Tongan culture.

Activists like the Merediths, Levenson, and Fitisemanu lead the way by empowering and educating Pacific Islanders. Fitisemanu said it is important to continue tradition while also moving forward. “We’re walking into the future backwards,” he said. “That’s how Polynesians see time. This is how we stay connected. Even though we’re moving in distance and in time into the future, we’re always facing the past.” Maintaining this connectedness while moving forward propels Pacific Islanders toward their dreams.

Levenson Quote

A quote from Matapuna Levenson, lead advocate at the Salt Lake Area Family & Justice Center.

Cultural rediscovery in Utah’s Pacific Islander community

Story and photo by DIEGO ROMO

Pacific Islanders have a long history and legacy in the United States that spans multiple generations. In Utah specifically, according to many sources, Pacific Islanders can trace their roots to religious immigrants who arrived shortly after the original Mormon pioneers. The community has left its mark on Utah’s unique cultural heritage and has been shaped by it as well.

Statistics from the Utah Department of Health show that the state is home to 38,000 Pacific Islanders and the average age among the community is 20 years old. Only one-quarter of those who identify themselves as Pacific Islanders are foreign born, meaning that three-quarters of Utah’s Pacific Islander population has no physical tie to the cultural homeland of their ancestors. This leaves many in the community culturally severed from their history and people.

This void leaves many feeling lost, as if they are floating between the two identities that help them to establish their self-image.

“I always felt divided,” said Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou, executive director of Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources, a Pacific Islander community resource group based in Salt Lake City.

Unlike many of the younger generations of Pacific Islanders in Utah, Feltch-Malohifo’ou has a direct, physical connection to her homeland. The daughter of a woman who worked as a housekeeper at a Mormon coconut plantation, Feltch-Malohifo’ou was born in Tonga, but was quickly adopted by a pair of Mormon missionaries who oversaw the estate.

She described the plantation as one very similar to the those of America’s deep South: rolling lawns with many trees and the key feature situated in the middle, the plantation manor.

Her life changed when she moved into the manor and began attending church school with the children of fellow Mormon church workers in Tonga.

“In my school picture, I’m the only Tongan,” she said. “I lived in Tonga, but didn’t have the real experience.”

Feltch-Malohifo’ou remembers celebrating American traditions like Halloween and Easter, and always having running hot and cold water, an uncommon luxury in Tonga at the time.

From a very young age she adapted to her new life with its unfamiliar traditions and culture, but began to lose some of her Tongan heritage in the process.

When she finally arrived in Utah after spending some time in Texas, she was eager to get back in touch with the Pacific Islander community. But initially she felt like an outsider among her people.

“When I interact with other Pacific Islanders I have a hard time relating,” she said.

Many who share similar experiences to Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou express the same sentiment. This may be attributed to the fact that the Pacific Islander community in Utah is very diverse in and of itself.

According to 2010 census data, the community breaks down into four groups: native Hawaiians, Guamanian, Chamorro, Samoan and Other Pacific Islanders. However, the census is not fully representative of how diverse this community truly is.

For those who are second-, third-, even fourth-generation Pacific Islanders born in America or raised in its culture, it can be difficult to pinpoint which cultural identity to relate to.

“I always looked at what made me different from them,” Feltch-Malohifo’ou said, referring to her connection to the Pacific Islander community. “My parents gave me opportunities that other kids of my situation didn’t have.”

Those opportunities and experiences isolated her from the community that she considered family. With no cultural anchor, Feltch-Malohifo’ou began to reach back out to the Pacific Islander community. She was surprised when the welcome wasn’t as warm as she had hoped.

She recalls an early incident when a co-worker at a former Pacific Islander community resource group told her, “If I close my eyes, you think and sound white.”

Hokulani Aikau, a University of Utah professor can relate. “It’s hard to find a way to connect when you feel like an imposter in your community,” she said.


Hokulani Aikau, a University of Utah professor in the Gender Studies department, is collaborating with fellow faculty to launch the Pacific Islander Studies Initiative.

Aikau was born in Hawaii but was raised in Utah for the majority of her life. She shares many of the same cultural dilemmas as Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou because she was raised in a primarily Anglo society.  Aikau grew up going to schools with white student bodies who were taught by white faculty, about a primarily white history and subject matter.

“How can we claim Hawaiian identities when we were raised here?” Aikau said.

She brings up a major dilemma in the community. How can Pacific Islanders maintain cultural identities when travel back to the islands is sporadic and access to the native language is limited and even nonexistent in some cases?

“Where do we go for that information? Universities are supposed to be a place for that,” she said.

Aikau, along with other professors and staff at the University of Utah, are launching the Pacific Islander Studies Initiative, an enterprise set forth by the university in order to further diversify its faculty and curriculum.

She described it as a hiring initiative that responds to the cultural needs of the community. This initiative would provide Pacific Islander students — who make up about 1 percent of the university’s population — with a culturally relevant education that challenges and critiques the status quo, while at the same time teaching students alternatives that are culturally relevant to their backstories and histories.

“You have to provide students with alternatives,” Aikau said. Especially those that are culturally relevant.

“The most important thing is the building of confidence,” she said, adding that Pacific Islanders “need to know there is a place for them here.”

She also touched on the fact that cultural education needs to address the diversity that exists within the Pacific Islander community.

“To be Hawaiian does not equal dancing hula and working at taro farms. You can express your culture in a variety of ways,” she said.

Feltch-Malohifo’ou’s organization, PIK2AR, provides another avenue for cultural education within the community by empowering parents and families with culturally relevant resources. These resources then help parents take that information back into the home to begin teaching children of all ages about their heritage.

“There needs to be more avenues for diversity within the ethnic communities,”  Feltch-Malohifo’ou said. But ultimately, “It’s about connection. It feels good to be valued,” she added.

Brandon Ragland, whose mother moved to Utah from Hawaii as a young child, seems to agree that implementing cultural education in the home is key to helping children understand their identities.

“Growing up we did lots of things to learn about our heritage and people. Every Sunday the entire family would get together,” Ragland said in a Facebook chat conversation. “We would have endless amounts of amazing food from home and after we ate, my great aunt got all the kids together, she’d teach us some short history lesson as well as a few Hawaiian words for everyday things,” he said.

“And the importance of passing each of those down to through the family to keep the spirit of aloha alive,” he added.

Ragland is now a father and says that he has been and will continue teach his son all that he learned from his great aunt.

“There’s a vast amount of history coming out of the Hawaiian Islands and knowing about it helps keep our ancestors’ memories alive,” Ragland said.

Cultural education is one way to rediscover one’s culture, and it can come in many different forms. But ultimately, it helps to clear the foggy area between cultural intersections and can provide a sense of identity to many who feel lost.

American Indians are undervalued because of miseducation


  • Meet Nola Lodge and Forrest S. Cuch (slideshow best viewed in full-screen mode)

Many American Indians today say their culture and history have been lost. They are now fighting to restore truth to the curriculum.

For years, elementary school students have been taught that Columbus discovered a new land, America — a land of promise, a land of riches, a land of hope. But many American Indians do not find that promise, those riches or that hope. Instead, they reflect on the stories of their childhood education and cringe with feelings of hopelessness, confusion and displacement.

“The truth isn’t out there, you have to dig for it. … American Indians were always portrayed as in the way,” says Nola Lodge, professor of multicultural education at the University of Utah and a member of the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin.

And marginalization for some creates privileges for others.

An article by Ruth Anne Olson titled, “White Privilege in Schools,” explains how today’s culture provides specific privileges to certain students. Olson lists many of these privileges, including, “My children take for granted that the color of any crayons, bandages, or other supplies in their classroom labeled ‘flesh’ will be similar to their own.” After listing several more of these privileges she writes, “My family never asked for these privileges; principals and teachers didn’t purposely create them for us; and, frankly neither they nor we have been consciously aware these privileges exist.” If the privileged students didn’t ask for the privileges, and the principals and teachers didn’t create them on purpose, and if no one has been consciously aware of the privileges, then why do they exist?

Lodge teaches classes on diversity so she is very aware of issues of privilege related to skin tone. She firmly believes that when children are taught early what difference is, their perceptions of who is valued changes. In addition, prejudice and stereotypes carry on into adulthood. She still experiences them today as a successful woman.

Lodge is helping to prepare many American Indian students begin their careers in education. It is not only important to get the truth about history out there, but to also get a variety of people teaching that history to help students understand difference at a young age, she says. When white students go to school they understand they can succeed. They see people just like themselves succeeding. The teachers know how to teach white students, they can relate. What about the other students? Children from different backgrounds learn differently and when they relate personally to their teacher, they succeed at a must faster rate.

“It should be K-12 students who should … accept that there is diversity. Difference is not change. This is why we need to change the curriculum,” Lodge says. She continues to tell a story from the Civil War, a subject commonly covered in history classes. When students learn about General Ulysses S. Grant they seldom learn that Ely Parker, his adjunct, his right-hand man, was a chief’s son and like Grant, an alumnus of West Point. They were equals in education. Their histories were equally important because they were both fighting for their country, for their land and for their beliefs. These small yet significant details are the ones left out of history books. These details are the ones that could give American Indian students, those fighting for recognition and truth, someone to emulate as they strive for success.

Forrest S. Cuch, executive director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs, is very concerned about the education of children. Cuch, a member of the Ute Tribe, wants them to understand the truth about American Indians, but knows they often hear very little about Indians in school. In a recent interview he quoted Thomas Jefferson as saying, “Our democracy hinges upon an educated public.” Cuch explained that children are the future of the country. They are tomorrow’s leaders and when part of the history of their own country is omitted from history books, lessons and much needed education is left behind as well. He believes this knowledge is part of the identity of each student and without it some are getting lost.

“Without an education there is no identity, no foundation. If I am ashamed of my history or my people, if I am not part of my own culture, I am lost. If I am part of nothing then I lose that identity,” Cuch says. He believes that this identity is being taken away from all students today.

Lodge has also thought about her own identity and how the knowledge of the truth plays a part in it. She takes a different stand, however, saying, “[The truth] informs you about that identity. It doesn’t give you an identity.” Lodge understands that life and one’s own culture build who you are, and the knowledge acquired along the way adds to it.

The most important thing Lodge has learned through teaching multicultural education and American Indian education “is how much still needs to be done.” She knows there are ways to improve what is being taught in schools; she knows that with effort, the truth will get out there.

American Indians have a past that teaches all who are willing to learn. They hold the stories and the truths that history books have omitted. Cuch says his “original culture is hanging on, barely. But it is covered with layers and layers of scars.” Like Lodge, he knows that when the truth of American Indians is in the school curricula in Utah, those scars will fade and the culture that is slipping away will return and become stronger. “I am not hopeless,” Cuch says.

Gallery creates a space for diversity


John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States of America, stated, “If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.”

During this year’s Pride at the U, artists of all sexual preferences found a venue for their visions.

“Art is a big part of queer culture,” said Bonnie Owens, 21, a senior at the University of Utah and an intern at the LGBT Resource Center on campus. “It’s a big part of any culture, so I thought it was important that it was included.”

The theme of the 2007 Pride Week held Oct. 15-20 was “Culture with a Q.” Owens was inspired by the theme, and chose to revamp the idea of an art gallery as part of Pride Week.

“In the past it’s never been successful, but I really wanted it to run well this year,” Owens said.

The art show was originally titled “Beautifully Obscene,” but was renamed “The Good Stuff” after some concern over what would be displayed in the gallery located in the U’s student lounge.

“The best thing about the gallery is that it crosses so many different boundaries,” Owens said. “We’ve got staff, faculty, alumni, community members and students all in here.”

Though it was labeled a LGBTQ art gallery, Owens said anyone could submit their art. Artists did not have to describe the subject matter, just the dimensions of their work.

“Something like this is so odd,” Owens said. “It’s so queer to have a gallery designed for queer students and faculty. So it’s very, very liberating for an artist that’s having a hard time finding their niche. It’s a good place to be.”

A variety of art was displayed in the gallery, including photography, drawings, oil, water color, mixed media and pottery.

While some works were more subdued, the gallery did feature a series of nudes painted by a former alumna who lives in Santa Quin County. Owens said the woman found out about the gallery through a culture article in the Salt Lake Tribune and was eager to show her work, not only because the county did not have a gallery that would display the nudes, but also because two of the woman’s children are gay.

The gallery became a canvas of emotion and statement for some.

Orbin Rockford, 27, submitted five pieces from a series of 25 Sharpie and acrylic paint drawings to the gallery. The dark images portrayed, both in color and tone, stood out starkly from their clean, white backgrounds.

The inspiration came from an emotional break-up that happened while Rockford was in college at a Boston art school.

“I was in a relationship that was totally messed up,” Rockford said. “It was my first real relationship with a guy.”

Drawing, Rockford said, is a form of therapy, what he calls “instinct art.”

“It’s a great outlet,” he said. “It’s been about coming to terms with myself.” 

But Rockford said he does not want his artwork to be defined only by his sexuality.

“It’s very much a part of my work, some pieces more than others,” he said.

Aside from putting the show together, Owens also submitted her own series of black and white photographs. Each one featured student leaders and activists from the U’s LGBTQ groups.

“They [Owens’ photographs] were designed to be shown, so they’re a little more apparent,” she said. “They’re something that you can look at them and say, why is this queer, what is going on here.”

The pieces were on display for the week, and the gallery full of artwork was proof of a goal accomplished, according to Owens.

“Pretty much everyone from different identities and cultures submitted something, which is something the resource center has had a hard time with in the past,” Owens said. “A lot of events this year cater to people who are often forgotten in programming like this, so people of color, transgender individuals, women, straight allies especially. So it’s great to see some of their work in this.”

Empowerment through education


According to the National Center for Education Statistics, enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools rose 26 percent between 1985 and 2007. As enrollment in public schools and adult education programs increases in the United States, the quality of what is taught to children and adults becomes more important.

Jennifer Isleib, a University of Utah student majoring in education, said education is the key to the future.

“Without the education of the past and present, humanity would be lost,” said Isleib, who works as a teacher’s aid at Dilworth Elementary. “Knowing our past is how we are going to make changes in the future, especially with young children because they are our future voice.”

One of the most important subjects in school is history. One aspect of history that is very important is learning about American Indians, said David Keyes, a social studies specialist in the Salt Lake City School District.

He believes that teaching children about American Indians is important because their story is everyone’s story.

“We need to know about the many tribes and nations that were here before the encounter with Europeans,” Keyes said in an e-mail interview. “We also need to know what happened to these peoples as a result of the encounter and how these tribes and nations continue to be part of our story today.”

In many schools today, history curricula mention cultures very quickly and then move on, Keyes said. American Indians are only mentioned briefly in many of the lessons taught in school, and many of the textbooks in Utah schools today devote only a chapter or two specifically to American Indians before and at the time of the European encounter, Keyes said.

According to the Utah State Office of Education Social Studies Core curriculum handout, the first lesson about American Indians is not until the 4th grade. This is a brief mention of the American Indian settlement on the East Coast during the encounter with the Europeans and some details about American Indians settling in Utah.

As it is very important to educate children in public schools, it is also very important to educate adults about issues that have been taught incorrectly in the past. Forrest Cuch, director of the Division of Indian Affairs, has made it a goal to inform kids and adults about history.

Cuch is a member of the Ute Indian Tribe and was born and raised on the Uintah and Ouray Ute Indian Reservation in northeastern Utah. When Cuch attended elementary school he was taught that American Indians didn’t make any contribution to civilization.

In 1994, Cuch became the social studies department head at Wasatch Academy in Mt. Pleasant, Utah. During this time Cuch developed a multi-cultural program and taught a full load of classes.

Cuch has also developed an “empowerment training” program for members of Indian tribes. This 10-month program taught as many as 30 people at a time about the history of their culture, spiritual, physical and mental health and taught participants how to live a better life for themselves and their children, Cuch said.

“We let them choose by showing a contrast of both worlds,” Cuch said. “After 10 months many of them were empowered to get off welfare and live a better life.”

Cuch hopes in the future these programs can be expanded to include all types of cultures because cultural diversity is what makes the world beautiful today.

Incorporating many cultures into curricula in public schools is important for children to learn about cultural diversity.

Teaching and educating children and young adults will help them understand the issues that American Indians deal with. Society still uses language, images and generalization that reinforce stereotypes associated with minorities, said Keyes, the social studies specialist.

“Over the past decade we have had an explosion of excellent materials for teachers to use,” Keyes said. “At a societal level we can continue to hope that our nation becomes more sensitive to American Indian issues.”

A Utahn’s search for culture, history and education


“If you don’t have a command of history you are vulnerable,” said Forrest Cuch, who has been the executive director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs since 1997. As director he works to enhance intergovernmental relationships throughout Utah. His experiences at the Division, coupled with his history as an educator, have made him successful. As a graduate of Westminster College he went on to teach social studies and become the education director of the Ute Tribe.

Growing up, Cuch was faced with trauma of an intellectual nature. While at home his parents told him about his culture and his people but at school he was taught that Native Americans didn’t contribute to civilization. Unsure of whom to believe, he had mixed feelings about school.

The contradictory information he received as a child is what drove him to challenge what kids are learning. Cuch believes that there is a need for reform and change and teachers should be taught to change social norms. “Cultural diversity makes the wonderful life we have today,” he said.

“The best way to teach is out of the heart,” he said. He believes that to provide great education to children, parents need to entrust their education with the right people. Cuch said it is important to find people who love children. Employing individuals who will nourish and foster children is essential. In addition, he believes paying teachers a decent salary is vital and suggests looking for new and alternative ways to teach and hook kids.

The biggest accomplishment and what he is most proud of is the empowerment training he helped develop. He trained more than 90 individuals from tribes and urban areas. The training focused on four main sections. The first was reteaching history. Cuch emphasized the importance of not believing everything one is taught; reteaching and relearning is key. Secondly, community develop was highlighted.

Physical and mental health were the last two components of the training. Before white settlers came to the Americas, Native Americans had never been exposed to alcohol and sugar, Cuch said. These elements were treated like toxins to their bodies and contributed to the setbacks that many Native Americans have faced.

The University of Utah is currently reviewing the program and Cuch hopes to receive more funding to continue his work. So far, the training has been held three different times: in 2002, 2003 and again in 2005. The main message he hopes people will take from the training is that education really is the key for success in business, personal and health aspects.

Bly Miller, a Park City resident and former teacher, is a member of the Iroquois tribe. Miller remembers the lessons her mother and grandmother taught her about the importance of knowing her culture and history. “They were always telling me about the struggles of our people and how no matter what they kept going. Knowing your history is vital because we are our history, our ancestors,” she said.

Miller has worked closely with the Iroquois tribe, educating its young on everything from tradition to basic life skills. She feels that her purpose in life is to teach and pass on what she has learned from her family. “If I can offer my knowledge to these children than I have done my part as a citizen of the world,” Miller said.

Cuch’s passion for education comes from the hardships he faced in school. While in high school he was exposed to the pain that came with the “white” version of history. Once he was in college he began to explore and learn the truth about his people and started his work with Native Americans. The result of this educational journey is the humanity he spreads through his work as a Ute and citizen. “History is not in the past,” he said, “it is now.”

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