Why Do Native People Disappear From Textbooks After the 1890s?Roundup
tags: Native American history, teaching history
Joshua Ward Jeffery, who is not Native, is an assistant professor of history and Diné studies at Navajo Technical University, a public, tribally-controlled university of the Navajo Nation in Chinle, Ariz., and the editor of H-High-S, a national online network of high school social studies educators, historians, social scientists, and K-12 teacher educators. He also is the academic coordinator for the Navajo Nation Police Academy.
The current manufactured controversy over critical race theory in American schools that has been roiling parts of the nation this summer has exposed two truths: Most K-12 teachers do not teach CRT, but they absolutely should. And while anti-education conservatives claim that CRT teaches things like “race essentialism” and that all white people are racist, the academic framework does nothing of the sort.
What it does is demand that we compare our ideals about law, justice, and the way government works with the lived experience of racial and ethnic minorities within those systems.
CRT, then, examines how America actually is in comparison with how we think it ought to be. When applied to history, critical race theory demands that we examine the American reality instead of the American mythology that has often masqueraded as history in classrooms.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland’s recent visit to the former site of the government-run Carlisle Indian School highlights some of that destructive American mythology. Haaland, an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo of New Mexico, is the first Native Cabinet secretary in U.S. history. Last month, Haaland visited the graveyard on the U.S. Army’s Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania during a ceremony to repatriate the disinterred remains of nine Rosebud Sioux children who died over a century ago at the school.
Historically, the United States committed itself to a policy of cultural genocide in the early part of the 19th century, and it created an education program for which Native children were removed from their parents—sometimes violently. The schools then compelled the children to give up their culture in favor of American norms, including by forcibly cutting students’ hair, replacing their names, prohibiting them from speaking their own language, and restricting their visits home. This boarding school period of Indian education continued until the passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act in 1978, a law aimed at preventing the forced removal of Native children from their families and tribes. Understandably, many Native people remain skeptical of educational systems designed and run by the federal government.
Problems with Native education continue today. Because the land making up a reservation is generally owned by the United States and held in trust for the tribes, there is no tribal property-tax base to fund tribally-run schools. That means Native nations rely upon the Bureau of Indian Education to manage or fund the vast majority of their schools. However, for years, the BIE has ignored accountability and transparency mandates in the Every Student Succeeds Act that require schools to report the educational progress of students.
Further, because of the lack of funding, only a small percentage of Native students have access to important early-learning programs, meaning that Native students are already struggling to “play catch up” when they arrive in kindergarten. This early disadvantage could be ameliorated if Congress were to fund Head Start and similar programs on reservations at the same rate it does elsewhere.
In addition to present-day educational disparities, Native American history is neglected in most K-12 classrooms. In fact, many students are actually surprised to learn that Native peoples still exist. It is almost as if Gen. Richard H. Pratt, the founder of the Carlisle School, was successful in his attempt to “Kill the Indian, and save the man.” Many non-Native students assume Native people must have died off since they largely disappear from textbook narratives after the 1890s. (They also make up about 1 percent of the national student population, so it’s possible that many non-Native students might not have been exposed to their Native peers.)
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