A lifetime spent in education, as well as activism, has proven well-recognized as Cornel Pewewardy readies to receive a prestigious award for his efforts to better Native American students’ educational experiences and outcomes.

“Last week I received an email from the chair of the awards committee, Oklahoma Council for Indian Education (OCIE) informing me that I was selected as their 2021 Educator of the Year,” he said.

The award will be presented Dec. 7 at the River Spirit Casino and Hotel in Tulsa.

Pewewardy said over the course of his lifetime, he’s come to witness colonization as a system of oppression rather than as personal or local prejudice. He said it’s something his OCIE colleagues and the students understand that it is the systemic nature of colonization that creates cognitive imperialism. It’s informed his path with education.

“To be ‘We the People,’ we must honestly address the issues that underlie our societal divisions and make real, systemic change for ‘living together differently,’” he said. “As an Indigenous educator, I am committed to looking systemically at institutional policies and practices to achieve racial equity from cradle-board to higher education.”

In his letter informing him of the honor, the OCIE the reasoning for Pewewardy’s selection:

“Your years of advocacy and dedication within the state of Oklahoma for Native American students is appreciated and valued.”

Advocation for Native American students is the mission, according to a statement from the OCIE. The guiding principles are to promote Indian education at all levels of learning, expand cultural awareness and collaborate with other organizations to the benefit of Oklahoma Indian students. To be a catalyst for high quality education and inspire success for Native American students while respecting their tribal diversity is the organization’s ultimate goal.

Pewewardy has put in a career based on those same principles. He is professor emeritus, Indigenous Nations Studies at Portland State University.

Now retired from higher education, he teaches an online doctoral-level course at the University of Washington Tacoma, Cameron University, the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Bacon College.

To many, Pewewardy also was the driving force in helping establish the Comanche Nation Charter School which began instruction this year. He was slated to be its head director, but stepped down from the position after being elected the tribe’s vice chairman in early June.

A lifetime social activist for Indigenous people’s, Pewewardy was honored in June for his social justice work. He was awarded the Suzan Shown Harjo Systemic Social Justice Award during the virtual June 9 session of the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education.

As more than being a teacher of theory, Pewewardy has lived the role as a social justice advocate. It includes his time among those from the American Indian Movement who occupied Wounded Knee, S.D., in 1973.

Pewewardy has called the work in establishing the Comanche charter school as a culmination of these two paths that is hoped to empower the next generation of Native American scholars and advocates for their culture.

Written by Scott Rains: scott.rains@swoknews.com.