Washington State Schools Improve Tribal History Curriculum

Although Washington state has 29 federally recognized Tribes, most public school students learn little of the history and culture of Native communities in their standard curriculum. Some middle school textbooks end their discussion of Native history around 1877. Thanks to an effort that began nearly seven years ago, this situation is now starting to change for the better.

In 2004, Rep. John McCoy, a member of the Tulalip Tribes, introduced a bill in the state legislature that would have required public school districts to teach Tribal history and culture. The bill did not pass, but the next year legislators approved a bill that encouraged districts to do so. For the past two years, Tribes, the state and 14 schools have worked together to create a curriculum module covering Tribal history, culture, and sovereignty, and to establish partnerships between Tribes and school districts. This fall, the ground-breaking curriculum will be available online for any teacher or school to use.

The goal is to increase understanding about Tribes among young people. "We really want to break down a lot of the stereotypes and misconceptions that people have about the Tribes and Tribal people," said Denny Hurtado, state director of Indian education. "People were saying things like, 'Why do these Indians have special rights?' If they really understood the history and the truth, they would understand that we've always had these rights."

When the curriculum becomes available online in the fall, McCoy hopes it will come into wide use in schools, and is working to raise money to open six training centers around the state where teachers can learn how to use it. "This is to get everyone to understand that because these treaties were signed, they are the law of the land," he said. "And consequently, Tribes are sovereign nations. There are so many people that don't understand that."