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."

Canadian Hearings On Native Boarding School Abuse

Hundreds of First Nation members in Canada will testify this month regarding their experiences at government-funded boarding schools designed to assimilate Native children into Canadian culture and religion. Approximately 150,000 children attended the Church-run boarding schools, which operated until the 1970s.

Children of First Nations who were sent to the schools were separated from their families, forced to abandon their cultural identity, and many were physically and sexually abused. As part of a settlement with the Canadian government four years ago, a truth and reconciliation commission has been established to explore the abuses of this system and allow its victims to offer personal testimonials. The settlement also included an apology from Prime Minister Stephen Harper and more than C$2billion in compensation for former schoolchildren and their families.

The hearings opened in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the first of seven sessions to be held across the country. Buffy Sainte-Marie, a Native singer-songwriter who took part in the commission's opening ceremonies, reflected on the impact the boarding school system had for First Nations. "It is just totally heartbreaking. The things that happened for generations of children, just removed from their homes. How can you say to a child, we're going to take away your parents, your sisters, your brothers your home - everything? You are going to be up for grabs for anyone who wants to do anything to you. And it was done."

Manitoba Justice Murray Sinclair, the head of the commission, said the experiences of former students will no longer be relegated to the sidelines of Canadian history. "They will tell you something they have never told anyone before, it is the kind of truth that causes you to squirm. The truth eventually will heal us all."