17-year-old helps Native Americans stay in school, wins against racist school mascots


by David Sheridan

When Dahkota Kicking Bear Brown sees a wrong, he doesn’t wait for someone else to do something about it. He takes action.

In the eighth grade, Brown saw his cousins struggling in school. He knew that Native American students have the highest dropout rate in the nation.

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So Dahkota created an organization to provide peer-to-peer mentoring and tutoring for Native youth, and he called it Native Education Raising Dedicated Students, NERDS for short. And today, four years later, there are nine NERD clubs serving more than 300 students in northern California.

“So far, NERDS has a 100 percent success rate of students graduating on time after their participation in NERDS peer-to-peer assistance and the NERDS summer school program,” says Brown, now a 17-year-old senior at Argonaut High School in Jackson, CA.

And NERDS isn’t his only success.

After founding NERDS, Brown tackled the volatile issue of racist team names and logos, particularly the term “Redskins.” You might say he was born into this issue. His mother and father attended rallies against mascots before he came into the world.

People ask Brown why he devotes so much time to fighting mascots. He tells them that the Native American mascots insult his culture; and he cites the research that shows these mascots and the regalia that go with them are detrimental to the mental health and development of Native American youth.

Dahkota Brown graphic

Brown joined forces with California State Assemblyman Luis Alejo to push legislation that would ban the use of the term “Redskins” as a sports team name, logo or mascot in public schools. And Brown organized support from the California Teachers Association and many other organizations, including numerous tribes and the National Congress of American Indians. He testified three times in Sacramento in support of the legislation before it passed earlier this year. Here is the legislation that Brown worked to pass.

A Miwok, enrolled in the Wilton Rancheria, Brown attributes his activism to the cultural traditions and values he learned at home. He adds that singing and dancing in traditional celebrations strengthen his cultural identity. “These traditions go all the way back to the first peoples of this land before it was ever colonized.”

Brown says he will continue to be an activist:

It’s healthy to find a passion and cause. It gives you something to live for.

Brown serves on the White House Steering Committee for Generation Indigenous (Gen I). While visiting Dartmouth University this fall, he participated in a Columbus Day demonstration with students who were calling for the day to be changed to Indigenous Peoples Day. He’s encouraged by the current surge of activism among students of color on college campuses across the nation.

Currently president of his high school class, Brown plans to major in political science when he goes to college next year. He’s thinking of pursuing a career in politics, and anyone who knows him will not be at all surprised if one day he becomes the first Native American to be elected president of the United States.

Reader Comments

  1. I am so glad to see this article. I am also Native American and teach in a rural community where we have a high drop out rate of Native American males. I am very interested in your Nerds program.

  2. Dahkota: Keep up the good work. We want to fund all your students with a scholarship. We funded 100% of applicants last year. Have them to contact me directly–the earlier the better. The scholarship season starts now and ends April 30. I will help them with their scholarship search, their essay, and their college applications. We will pay for their ACT or SAT tests if they need it.

    1. Great news! I am an ESE Teacher of Autistic 3rd graders. I have always been disturbed by prejudice and bias. I am of an u favored relugion. The kuds across the street thought people of my religion were supposed ro have antennae before they net us.

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