Native History Is Washington History, And Tribes Are Helping Schools Teach It

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tags: Native American history, teaching history

On an October morning, history teacher Alison McCartan surveyed her classroom of 20 high schoolers at River Ridge High School in Lacey. This was her question: “Did all of you guys come to this class with a knowledge of treaties?”

Some students answered aloud. Others typed out a response in the classroom’s virtual chat room. As the answers filtered in, she got the answer she expected: Not everyone came into this class knowing the history of Native treaties. Some didn’t even know they existed. 

This is the second year River Ridge has offered a U.S. history class through Native perspectives. While many teachers might start their lessons with stories from a couple of hundred years in the past, McCartan started her PowerPoint with a conversation about the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. Mass protests only started in 2016, but as she told her students, there’s a history behind the protesters' concerns — and part of that boils down to understanding tribal treaties. 

She knows that some students may have heard this history before, especially since the class is a mixture of Native and non-Native learners. But for many, regardless of background, it’s their first time talking about these topics in a classroom setting. 

Then, she asked: At this point, a month and a half into the class, how many of their friends knew as much or more about treaties than they did? 

The students answered that question quickly: Practically none. 

McCartan says the reality is that Native history education, especially with lessons including modern history, is hard to come by. 

“You have to seek it out a lot of the time,” she says. “That’s not how it should be.” 

That problem starts young. A 2015 study found that 87% of state history standards in the country don’t teach Native American history after 1900, and 27 states don’t even mention Native Americans in their K-12 curriculum. Generally, studies find that the narratives surrounding Native people paint them as “historical.” Jerad Koepp (Wukchumni)*, the school district’s Native student program specialist, says this sets up a world where Native people are invisible. 

“If you don’t recognize Native people and don’t think they’re still around, it’s easy to dehumanize them,” he says. 

Some of this is changing. In 2015, Washington passed the “Since Time Immemorial” (STI) curriculum requirement as a first step towards better educating students about Native history. The law applies to all schools, requiring that they teach a tribally developed curriculum. The STI curriculum the state offers includes information about everything from treaties to tribal sovereignty. It also requires that school districts build relationships with tribal governments, which means that they must consult tribes as they begin to incorporate Native perspectives in their lessons. 

Read entire article at Crosscut

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