Indigenous People’s Curriculum Day and Teach-In 9/10/18

By Vic & Bonnie Sutton

The real history of the Americas has been lost by trivialization and by being omitted from the textbooks. The continued misrepresentation of indigenous peoples in the media and popular culture contributes to continued settler colonization and racism toward indigenous peoples.

Yet the growing movement by the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and hundreds of other indigenous nations to protect their homelands and resources from destruction presents teachers an opportunity to introduce students to lessons based on the environment, government, history, economic, cultural studies and civics.

It is almost the month and day when people celebrate Columbus Day. The D.C. Area Educators for Social Justice, a project of Teaching for Change, offered a workshop on September 10 to provide resources for educators.

The workshop took place at the National Museum of the American Indian, in Washington, DC. It engaged with curriculum and strategies for teaching students about indigenous people’s history and life today.

Sarah Shear

The workshop started with a keynote by Dr. Sarah B. Shear, who is an assistant professor of social studies education at Penn State University, Altoona. She described her research into the way that race and settler colonialism issues are addressed in state standards and textbooks; teacher education; film; and qualitative research methodologies.  

The keynote was followed by a number of breakout sessions.

On of these was: What Does It Mean to Remove a People?

Participants learned about the U.S. Government’s American Indian removal policies of the 19th century and their lasting effects on Native nations. They also explored the museum’s ‘Native Knowledge 360‘ resource in a guided lesson using documents, maps, and multimedia resources.

It includes a case study on the removal of the Potawatomi Nation. They originally lived in Michigan and ended up living in Oklahoma. Sources allow educators to further investigate their story. There is an online treaty, map, document, quotes, and an object to study and think about this case. It is easiest to use technology to explore these resources, but teachers can also request paper copies.

Another of the eight workshops offered was “Caretakers of the Earth: Continuing the Legacy in Elementary Classrooms”.

Here participants created a colorful collage book showing the life of the American shad fish and the importance of shad to inland waterways and to native peoples such as the Pamunkey and Mattaponi. This activity provides the opportunity for showing students how they can each take action to improve our environment.

A third workshop explored a classroom activity called ‘Nation to Nation: Contextualizing Tribal Sovereignty and Treaties’.

This provides students with copies of the Muscogee Treaty, 1790; the Treaty of Canadaigua, 1794; and the Treaty of Fort Wayne, 1809.

Students are then encouraged to analyze the treaties to see what native nations gained from the treaties, and what they gave up. This analysis is placed in context by exploring what happened before the Treaty that influenced the native nation and the U.S. to negotiate, and what was the aftermath of the Treaty.

The course materials contrast the views of the General Council of Western Indians with those of Thomas Jefferson. Representatives of 16 native nations wrote to the federal Indian Commissioners on 13 August 1793: “Money to us is of no value and no consideration can make us sell our lands on which we get food for our women and children… Restore to us our country, and we shall be enemies no longer.”

Jefferson, on the other hand, wrote on 27 February, to William Henry Harrison: “We shall push our trading houses, and be glad to see the good and influential individuals among them run in debt, because we observe that when these debts get beyond what the individuals can pay, they become willing to pay them off by a cession of lands… in this way our settlements will gradually encircle the Indians, and they will in time either join us as citizens of the U.S. or remove beyond the Mississippi….”

Finally, the teachers present were briefed about the Campaign to Abolish Columbus Day.
Many argue that it is time to stop celebrating the crimes of Columbus and stand in solidarity with the indigenous people who demand an end to Columbus Day. Instead of glorifying a person who enslaved and murdered people, destroyed cultures, and terrorized those who challenged his rule, the campaign aims to honor these communities, demanding sovereignty, recognition, and rights.

The campaign encourages schools to petition their administration and for communities to introduce legislation to rename Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day.

A teaching guide has been compiled by the Zinn Education Project: Teaching People’s History. This is titled ‘Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years‘.

In conclusion, the workshop was a valuable opportunity for teachers to be challenged to include more in-depth content for their students on the American indigenous peoples. It looked only at a few examples of the resources available from the National Museum of the American Indian. Many more can be found on the Web site of the Native Knowledge 360 program, as referenced above.

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