As the horror stories of the institutions of forced assimilation of Indigenous children continue to emerge, it is clear the erasure of this history almost succeeded. I remember being taught very little beyond Columbus ‘discovering America’, the colonial version of ‘Thanksgiving’, and not much related to the settler colonists and Indigenous peoples.
It is crucial for non-native people to learn this history, to know how this country developed, so we can all begin to heal. We can’t do that as long as we remain within the boundaries of whitewashed colonial stories. This is important for the context for dealing with rapidly evolving environmental chaos. Because a return to Indigenous practices and relationships with Mother Earth and all our relations is, I believe, the way to adapt to the coming collapse.
In the last blog post I wrote about sixth grader Alden Nobiss’ idea of having students teach each other about anti-racism and an accurate history of this country known as the United States.
Alden’s mother, Christine Nobiss (Sikowis) says, “he basically thinks that if teachers can’t teach critical race theory, then why can’t students do it? So that’s his idea. He thinks that students can teach each other in their spare time. During recess, during lunch time, and that’s something that he’s going to try to do. So, we have a book that he’s going to share called 500 Years After Columbus, which is a curriculum guide for teaching better indigenous studies for k-12. So, he’s already taking a look at that.”
It has been a long-running goal of many Native people to have more about their history and culture taught in grade schools. New requirements have been adopted in Connecticut, North Dakota and Oregon and advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
The legislation affecting schools has advanced alongside new bans on Native mascots for sports teams and states celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day in place of Christopher Columbus Day.
The push for curriculum requirements has not been without challenges, with some legislatures deeming new laws unnecessary because Native American history already is reflected in school curriculum. There also have been some steps in the opposite direction amid battles over how topics related to race and racism are taught in classrooms.
In South Dakota, a group of teachers and citizens charged with crafting new state social studies standards said last month that Gov. Kristi Noem’s administration deleted from their draft recommendations many elements intended to bolster students’ understanding of Native American history and culture. They said changes made to the draft gave it a political edge they had tried to avoid, aligning it instead with the Republican governor’s rhetoric on what she calls patriotic education.Push for Indigenous Curriculum Makes Gains by Susan Haigh, Indian Country Today, Sept 15, 2021
Only five states mentioned Indian boarding schools in their state content standards, which is “unimaginable,” said Sam Torres of The Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition. “It’s obviously a representation and reflection of what is being valued in educational and curricular context.”
As the United States federal government gears up to assess the genocide it perpetuated against Native communities for nearly a century, Native leaders and academics say there is one glaring method for accessing truth and healing: education.
Roughly fifty four percent of public schools across the United States make no mention of Native Americans in their K-12 curriculum, and 87 percent of state history standards don’t discuss Native American history after 1900, according to a study conducted in 2019.
For its part, NABSHC—an organization that has been at the helm of increasing public awareness on boarding schools since its founding nearly a decade ago—in 2020 released its first ever Truth and Healing Curriculum. The curriculum, available for free online, is made up of four lessons on Indian Boarding Schools focusing on history, impacts, stories, and healing.
“We were hearing a lot of feedback from community members asking for materials for their students,” Torres said. In developing the curriculum— sectioned into primary, middle and upper grades learning levels—Torres said he and staff members focused on the pillars that mimic a Native approach to collective education.
Other nonprofit institutions, such as The Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture & Lifeways in Michigan and the Heard Museum in Arizona have also developed their own supplemental Indian Boarding School curriculum. But without a state mandate on the specific curriculum, or enough educators aware of or comfortable enough with the content, the material reaches only a tiny fraction of students.
NABSHC’s Truth and Healing curriculum has been downloaded over one thousand times, Torres said, as the organization sets its sight on training educators in decolonizing knowledge.
“Rigorous meaningful curricular materials have and continue to be developed by Native people,” Torres said. “Yet without the political will to ensure accountability and to guide implementation, what is observed rather in mainstream American education is the ongoing erasure of Indigenous people.”The vast majority of Americans don’t learn about Indian boarding schools growing up. These Native leaders and educators want to change that by Jenna Kunze, Native New Online, Sept 13, 2021
The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition has developed a curriculum on U.S. Indian Boarding Schools for teachers and parents to use with their students and children.
The Truth and Healing Curriculum is comprised of four (4) robust lessons on Indian boarding schools covering History, Impacts, Stories, and Healing, and is appropriately sectioned into three (3) learning levels: primary, middle, and upper grades.
NABS understands that educational resources such as these are greatly needed for a variety of important reasons. As a response to requests from teachers and parents, we developed the Truth and Healing Curriculum to support distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Download a package that includes all curriculum.