Indian Education For All in Utah
Over the past several years I have advocated the importance of the history of the First People of Utah to be added to the school curriculum in Utah's public school system. Quoting from the Salt Lake Tribune article by Lisa Shencker November 25, 2009:
"These kids are living in Utah, and they need to know the whole story," said Elizabeth Player, curriculum coordinator for the Utah Indian Curriculum Project at the American Advertisement West Center at the University of Utah. "If we miss out on the first people in our state and their current status, we're missing a huge piece of that puzzle as to who we are as Utahns."
Some say it's a lesson that has been absent from Utah classrooms for far too long.
"Too often, museums and other institutions portray Indians as they do the dinosaurs, like we're dead and gone," said Forrest Cuch, director of the state Division of Indian Affairs. "But we're not. We wanted this curriculum to show Indian people are alive and though we're not as well as we should be, we're at least alive and striving."
Indian children are required to attend public schools, and there they, unlike non-Indians, are not taught their own Indian history. Aside from teachers mentioning Indians in passing, in-depth discussions about their culture such as customs and sacred beliefs are not explored as non-Indian culture is.
The Indian student then feels left out, ignored as that they are excluded in this way from the community. Because their history is ignored and left out of school curriculum consequently the drop-out rate for the Indian student is very high.
The Tribune article continued, "This year, every school in the state received binders full of lessons for fourth-graders, seventh-graders and high school students about American Indians' unique contributions to Utah.And the American West Center has been training teachers how to teach the topics using videos, oral histories, photographs, interactive maps and tribal documents.
Fourth-graders will learn about how the Goshutes communicate cultural values through Coyote stories. Seventh-graders will learn about how the Miss Navajo Pageant helps Navajos transmit their culture to younger generations. High school students will learn about the Southern Paiutes' struggle for tribal sovereignty.
"I feel like I can finally do it justice," said Quinn Rollins, a seventh-grade teacher at Bennion Junior High in Taylorsville."
Tiana Tollestrup, an eighth-grader at Crescent View Middle School in Sandy, said she's eager to learn more about her own heritage and American Indian historical figures.
"We learn about other backgrounds and a lot about how they lived and their history," Tollestrup said. "I think it would be great if we learned about ours."
Damon Pitts, a senior at Jordan High in Sandy, said he thinks it might give American Indian students a reason to do better in school. He said what he's learned as part of his school's Standing Tall program, which mentors American Indian students, has already helped him.
"It gave me a boost to do better, to know that someone cares," Pitts said.
Montana has adopted and mandated a policy called "Indian education for all". The results of the "Indian Education for All" program has been remarkable. As Indian students have a sense of belonging, racists jokes and attitudes has all but disappeared from the schools. And the drop-out rate has decreased remarkably.
When a people are deliberately denied access to their own history by educators and institutions as the American Indian have been, when their children are forced to accept solely the victors point of view, when cultural traditions and customs of the American Indian are systematically replaced by western beliefs; when they are denied their right to speak their own language and denied their religious freedom, when they are repeatedly denied equal access to justice and protection under the law, when these things happen they are discriminated against and segregated.
I applaud the efforts of the documentary film project "We Shall Remain", Forrest Cuch Executive Director of Indian Affairs, KUED, and the Board of Education and all the many teachers who have at long last made Indian history a part of the school curriculum.
- Phillip B Gottfredson
Utah failing to educate Indian kids, report says
By Stephen Speckman
Deseret Morning News (Friday, September 19, 2003)
Utah is lagging behind several other states in its efforts to educate American Indians, according to a report from the Utah American Indian/Alaska Native Education State Plan Advisory Committee. The advisory committee's study concluded that Utah is behind Idaho, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Montana and Minnesota, which have all mandated that their education systems change their social studies core curriculum and counseling programs. Forrest Cuch, director of the state Division of Indian Affairs, will present the plan Wednesday to the legislative education interim committee. A group of 65 tribal leaders, tribal educators, state and federal education officials compiled the document.
"They don't know how to educate Indian children," Cuch said of Utah's schools. "We have generally failed our kids over the past 50 years."
One goal, Cuch said, is to integrate more education that includes American Indian history and a sensitivity to Indian culture.
Cuch met Friday with Richard Kendell, deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt for higher education, public education and economic development.
"I agree that Native American kids are not being well served," Kendell said. "They drop out in disproportionate numbers, and their achievement levels in school are not very good."
Cuch gave Kendell a copy of the report and asked for the governor's assistance with funding education programs that target Indian students. "You've got to address their needs," Kendell added. "We'll be making a budget come December, and we'll give consideration to this request as well as a bunch of others."
The plan finds that "Indian people are still suffering from and have not healed from the North American conquest, nor the violent struggle to settle Utah, predominantly by members of the LDS Mormon faith." In order to educate Utah's American Indian children, it's important for those youths to understand their past, "begin to heal" and start believing in themselves, according to the report.
Another finding is that Utah's tribal communities continue to blame failed economic and educational systems on or near reservations for many problems within tribes. But the plan says the blame game between schools, American Indian parents and their children needs to stop.
"We have learned that for American Indians in the state of Utah," the plan says, "social dysfunctions are real and have a major impact on education and what happens in schools." Among possible solutions, it says some tribes, which have their own sovereign rights, are willing to enter into agreements with the government to clarify expectations between the state, tribes and school districts.
Cuch said that Utah's failings have meant that American Indian children are falling through the cracks in greater numbers. They're dropping out of school and turning to self-destructive behaviors that involve drugs and alcohol at an alarming rate, he said.
"We've got to sit down and solve this problem," Cuch said. "It's costing all of us taxpayers." In rural school systems in particular, Indian youths do not see a nurturing attitude. The report says, "American Indian students in the state of Utah are intelligent and just as capable as any other student." It adds, however, that many American Indian children enter school lacking English proficiency.
The report goes on to say a lack of "accurate and culturally relevant curriculum" perpetuates stereotypes and contributes to low self-esteem among Indian students. Administrators, counselors and teachers, the group said, should have to demonstrate cultural competency related to American Indians as a graduation requirement.
During my research of the history of the First People of Utah, time and time again I have been told by members of the LDS church "We have given the Indians every chance to succeed. Yet they choose to live off the government, get drunk, do drugs and live in poverty. It's their own damn fault."
If this is truly what Utahans believe then they too are victims of an education system that has failed to teach the truth. I have no doubt they have been given every chance to accept the white man's ways. I have no doubt that Indians have rebelled and made the decision not to learn the white mans ways. And I can't blame them. For any student regardless of race to be forced to listen to lies, is it any wonder they drop out of school and turn their backs on white society? If all educators teach are half truths, platitudes, omissions in their class rooms, how does that build self esteem? How does that promote a sense of belonging? How can anyone expect a person to embrace cultural genocide of their own people?
Each and every human being has the unalienable right to live a decent life.
- Phillip B Gottfredson
Native Education - By Naomi Isshisaka
"The only chance of saving any of this race, will be by taking their children, at a very early age, and educating them in our habits, in a situation removed from the contagion of Indian pursuits." - William Tudor in Letters on the Eastern States, 1821
"How smooth must be the language of the whites, when they can make right
look like wrong, and wrong like right." - Black Hawk, Sauk, 1800s
Over the course of U.S. history, one of the most intransigent battles in the fight for equality and justice for people of color has been in access to quality, culturally relevant education.
For many people of color, education - far from being a tool for uplift - was a bludgeon, designed to strip culture, difference, language from non-white children and to "civilize" them with the master narrative of U.S. history. For Native people, this calculated cultural genocide was done with force, as Native children were taken from their families and sent to government boarding schools designed to "Kill the Indian, Save the Man."
For about 100 years, ending formally in the 1930s but continuing until the '70s, Native boarding schools used coercion and often abuse to force children to lose their connection to their languages, cultural traditions and families. As an elder, Lone Wolf, Blackfeet, recalled in the 1890s, "School wasn't for me when I was a kid. I tried three of them and they were all bad. The first time was when I was about 8 years old. The soldiers came and rounded up as many of the Blackfeet children as they could. The government decided that we were to get the White Man's education by force.
"It was very cold that day when we were loaded into the wagons. None of us wanted to go and our parents didn't want to let us go. Oh, we cried for this was the first time we were to be separated from our parents. Nobody waved as the wagons, escorted by the soldiers, took us toward the school at Fort Shaw. Once (we got to the boarding school) our belongings were taken from us, even the little medicine bags our mothers had given to us to protect us from harm. Everything was placed in a heap and set afire.
"Next was the long hair, the pride of all the Indians. The boys, one by one, would break down and cry when they saw their braids thrown on the floor. All of the buckskin clothes had to go and we had to put on the clothes of the White Man. I remember one evening when we were all lined up in a room and one of the boys said something in Indian to another boy. The man in charge caught him by the shirt and threw him across the room. Later we found out that his collar bone was broken. The boy's father, an old warrior, came to the school. He told the instructor that among his people, children were never punished by striking them."
Is it any surprise, then, that with the legacy of this oppressive system, Native students continue to be at the greatest risk of dropping out of school? The 2001 McDowell Report on Alaska Native and Native education says, "American Indian and Alaska Native students are considered the most at-risk for failing to complete high school and college. Whatever the reasons for leaving school, dropout rates are symptomatic of the failure of an educational system that refuses to accept cultural differences as a strength rather than a weakness."
To help address the persistent impact on Native students and communities, a number of new initiatives have emerged. We look at two, Antioch University's Early College Initiative and the Northwest Indian College. These efforts aim to reverse the pattern of lack of culturally
appropriate education, lack of Native educators and consequent lack of interest and commitment from students. Just over the past two years, dropout rates for Native students in the Early College program at Ferndale High School near the Lummi Reservation decreased from 69 percent to 16 percent. Test scores are also up, both demonstrating the potential for positive intervention in what could seem an intractable situation.