How teaching of Native American history is growing

Denver is updating its history curriculum while teachers in Minnesota will get more training and resources
By: | December 4, 2019
Many school districts are expanding instruction in Native American history, according to a report that also found many curriculums deficient.Many school districts are expanding instruction in Native American history, according to a report that also found many curriculums deficient.

Denver Public Schools leaders plan to revise a history curriculum that mostly ignored the perspectives of Native Americans during the settlement of the American West, Chalkbeat reported.

Northeast Early College high school principal Stacy Parrish, who is a member of the Klamath tribe of Oregon, has said the existing curriculum depicted settlers as having justifiable social, geographic, and economic motivations for committing the “slaughter and the cultural annihilation of millions of Native Americans,” according to Chalkbeat.

But Denver is not alone in its instructional gaps. The recent “Becoming Visible” report by the National Congress of American Indians found that 87% of state history standards do not mention Native American history after 1900, and that 27 states make no mention of a single Native American in their K-12 curriculum.

However, the study also found that almost 90% of states surveyed are working to improve their Native American curriculums and that a majority of the states reported that Native American education is included in their content standards.

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In Minnesota, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community has launched a $5 million campaign to boost Indian education in the state’s schools, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.

The campaign will fund resources, curriculum and training for teachers and school administrators, according to the newspaper.

Next door in South Dakota, after-school and summer programs are providing extra support to Native American students to help them succeed in school, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reported.

The nonprofit Cheyenne River Youth Project offers educational programs, job training and internships, wellness education and healthy meals to Cheyenne River Indian Reservation children, according to the newspaper.

“I think for us, what’s important is that we give kids options and opportunities so that they can imagine what they can be when they grow up,” Julie Garreau, the Youth Project’s founder and executive director, told the Argus Leader. 

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Washington has for the last four years mandated that all schools teach the Since Time Immemorial curriculum that focuses on the history and culture of the state’s 29 federally recognized Native American tribes. About 130,000 Native Americans live in Washington, which was the second state to require instruction in Native American history.

“The goal is not only to address the needs of tribal youth, but to address the understanding of tribal culture” Michael Vendiola, the former program supervisor with the Office of Native Education in Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, told District Administration. 

Since Time Immemorial examines tribal sovereignty and the challenges of self-governing as well as current Native American concerns, such as the achievement gap. It also examines the historical impact of physical geography, such as the need to be near salmon, a centerpiece of early tribal life.

Students also learn about the hardships of reservation life.

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