HAYS-LODGE POLE, Montana—When Aloha Shortman asked her sixth-graders to find Italy on a world map during a social studies lesson last August, they couldn’t do it. One student’s finger landed on Brazil. Others grew bored and restless. Shortman quickly shifted gears, searching for a way to make a lesson on the Roman Republic relevant to a group of American Indian students in a remote Montana community.

“What about the Law of Twelve Tables?” she asked, referring to the foundational Roman legislation. “What does this remind you of, in our culture? What do we have that’s like it?”

Several hands shot up. “The tribal code?” the first student answered correctly.

“Exactly,” she said.

After 11 years teaching, Shortman has a seemingly instinctive gift for redirecting a lesson if students aren’t responding. But if you ask her what makes her a great teacher, she discounts natural ability, experience, or training. First and foremost, she cites her status and cultural heritage as a American Indian.

“The students here really have a lot of trust issues because of things that have happened to us,” she says. From the mid-19th to the mid-20th century, American Indian families were forced by law to send their children to government-sponsored boarding schools, which were often far from home and run by assimilationist white educators. Many white teachers physically or sexually abused their students, and that historical abuse, combined with modern-day discrimination, colors how American Indian children view white teachers.

Across the country, America’s teaching force grossly fails to mirror an increasingly diverse student body. For the first time in the country’s history, more than half of public school students are nonwhite, while the most recent figures show that 82 percent of their teachers are white. The Center for American Progress reported last May that almost every state has a sizable diversity gap in the classroom.

In recent years, a handful of Montana districts have been trying to change that, recruiting more teachers like Shortman to instruct a group that’s often overlooked in conversations about teacher diversity, yet potentially has the most to gain from positive improvements: American Indian students.

Though every other major ethnic group in America has seen improvements in students’ reading and math scores in recent years, American Indian students’ scores haven’t budged. Experts point to the lack of teacher diversity as one potential explanation, and on some reservations, school leaders have become increasingly convinced that hiring more American Indian teachers like Aloha Shortman could help their struggling schools succeed. They believe that even the most sensitive white teachers who arrive on their reservations can’t do as much as American Indian teachers who share their students’ culture. American Indian teachers, they reason, might also be more likely to understand issues that affect so many of their students, such as intergenerational poverty, substance abuse, and suicide.

“My obligation is to hire the best teachers, hoping that we would get American Indians,” says Margarett Campbell, Hays-Lodge Pole’s superintendent. “Because they’re going to be invested if they know the students will be their neighbors.”

The percentage of American Indian teachers in Montana has barely increased since the mid 1990s—rising from 1.9 percent in the 1995-1996 school year to 2.3 percent today. Yet many teachers and administrators are optimistic about the future of American Indian education in Montana. Denise Juneau, a member of the Blackfeet tribe, was elected as Montana’s superintendent of public instruction in 2008, becoming the first American Indian person in Montana to win a statewide election. And in the tiny communities of Hays and Lodge Pole, there has been a significant increase of American Indian teachers: In 1997, only 38 percent of the district’s teachers were American Indian, but that percentage is now 78.

These efforts raise a question that resonates throughout the country: How much does a teacher’s race, class, and culture matter in the classroom? Do American Indian students need American Indian teachers in order to succeed?

To read the entire article, click here.

An excerpt:

Graduation season. Lately my newsfeed has been a steady stream of smiling Native graduates, clad in beaded mortarboards, eagle feathers, and the beautiful adornments of their cultures. But with the season has also come a litany of stories involving students fighting their schools and administrators for the right to wear the sacred objects associated with a major life event.

Why are these schools denying Native Americans cultural expression? And those schools with say, ‘[R-word] as a mascot…really? A faux headdress is acceptable but not a rightfully earned eagle feather?  

Last week, I received a call from a family whose school had gone even further – the administrators were mandating that a Diné child cut his hair in compliance with the dress code, lest he be unable to attend next fall.

Despite several meetings and email exchanges, the school remained resolute that long hair is not a religious belief worthy of recognition. And even if it was, they asserted that the law does not protect the child’s belief.

I could not believe what I was hearing. Were these administrators completely unaware of the significance of long hair to Native Americans? Had they heard of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, which sets forth a clear federal policy “to protect and preserve … [the] inherent right of freedom to believe, express, and exercise the traditional religions of the American Indian”? Did they just not care once informed?

Throughout Indian country, there are many differing hairstyles and associated beliefs. Personally, I learned my hair is an outward projection of my connection to the Red Road, a physical symbol representing my spiritual commitment to living mino bimaadiziwin and learning the teachings of the Midewiwin. Excepting slight trims, my hair will only be cut if a traumatic event occurs, such as the passing of a relative. 

For the Diné family, their son’s hair would be tightly wrapped into a figure-eight bun called a tsiiyéél. School administrators claimed the hairstyle would be a “distraction” for the other students and outside visitors. One wonders if a yarmulke worn by a Jewish child would be ruled a distraction.

But perhaps it is simply just another instance of mainstream culture having little to no clue about Native American values, and dismissing those values as foreign once informed. Fortunately, the Supreme Court does not take that approach.

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

From Last Real Indians, here.  An excerpt:

The Washington State legislature has passed Senate Bill 5433, which will require the teaching of Northwest tribal history, culture, and government in Washington State’s common schools.  Washington SB 5433 was an amendment to the 2005 House Bill 1495.

When it was passed, H.B. 1495 only “encouraged” Washington State school districts to teach Northwest tribal history, culture, and government.  SB 5433 revised the language to now “mandate” the teaching of tribal sovereignty curriculum at the elementary, middle and high school grade levels.

School districts will now be required to implement the Since Time Immemorial tribal sovereignty curriculum (STI).   The STI curriculum grew out of H.B. 1495 and was developed in partnership with the 29 tribes in WA State and the State’s Office of Native Education. Both HB 1495 and SB 5433 were sponsored by Sen. John McCoy (Tulalip).

Washington State now joins Montana as the second state to mandate the teaching of tribal sovereignty curriculum. In 1999, Montana passed House Bill 528— the Indian Education for All Act.

Kerry Venegas is the Director of the Tribal Education Department for the Hoopa Valley Tribe, and is providing an update on California AB 163, which expands Native teaching credential authorization for Tribes that passed as AB 544 in 2009.

AB 163 is still in the legislative process, but doesn’t seem to have any major roadblocks. Even the teacher unions have endorsed it. The great thing about this bill is that a teacher who already holds the Native Language credential could add on the culture credential, with tribal authorization, instead of having to go through the process again. And people seeking the credential for the first time could do the Native Language credential, or the culture credential, or both.

It does contain specific language about training for teachers credentialed under this section to receive professional development training in teaching methods in addition to tribally endorsed language and/or culture/history, but leaves it pretty much in the Tribes hands. Specifically, “Upon agreement by the tribe, a tribe recommending a candidate for an American Indian languages-culture language-culture credential shall develop and administer a technical assistance program guided by the California Standards for the Teaching Profession. To the extent feasible, the program shall be offered by teachers credentialed in an American Indian language, or culture, or both, who have three or more years of teaching experience.”

Below is a short description of both AB 163 and the original Native language credentialing bill (now law) AB 544, links to history of the bills, and a link to the CA Ed Code.

Hope this is useful information.

Take care,
Kerry


CA AB 163
– This bill, as now amended, would amend Section 44262.5 of the California Education Code, and amend Section 1 of Chapter 324 of the Statutes of 2009, relating to teacher credentialing to require the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, upon recommendation by a tribal government of a federally recognized Indian tribe in California, to issue an American Indian language-culture credential with an American Indian language authorization, or an American Indian culture authorization, or both, to a candidate who has met specified requirements.

CA AB 544 – This bill authorized amending the California Education Code, Section 44262 to include Section 44262.5 to authorize the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, upon recommendation by a tribal government of a federally recognized Indian tribe in California, to issue an American Indian languages credential to a candidate who has demonstrated fluency in that tribal language, and met other requirements.

Link to CA Ed Code Section 44262.5: http://www.weblaws.org/california/codes/ca_educ_section_44262.5 or here.

From Native News Network, here.

StoryCorps, in partnership with the American Library Association (ALA) Public Programs Office, is accepting applications from public libraries and library systems interested in hosting StoryCorps @ your library programs.

Funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), StoryCorps @ your library will bring StoryCorps’ popular interview methods to libraries while developing a replicable model of oral history programming.

Program guidelines and the online application are available at apply.ala.org/storycorps. The application deadline is Feb. 6.

Ten selected sites will receive:

  • a $2,500 stipend for project-related expenses;
  • portable recording equipment;
  • a two-day, in-person training on interview collection, digital recording techniques and archiving on April 8-9, 2014, led byStoryCorps staff in Brooklyn, New York (Note: Travel and lodging costs will be covered by StoryCorps.);
  • two two-hour planning meetings to develop a program and outreach strategy with StoryCorps staff in March 2015;
  • promotional materials and technical and outreach support;
  • access to and use of StoryCorps’ proprietary interview database.

Each library will be expected to record at least 40 interviews during the six-month interview collection period (May-October 2015). In addition, each library must plan at least one public program inspired by the interviews they collect. Local libraries will retain copies of all interviews and preservation copies will also be deposited with the Library of Congress.

This StoryCorps @ your library grant offering represents the second phase of the StoryCorps @ your library project, following a pilot program in 2013-14. Read more about the pilot libraries at http://www.ala.org/programming/storycorps and http://www.storycorps.org/your-library.

About ALA’s Public Programs Office

ALA’s Public Programs Office provides leadership, resources, training and networking opportunities that help thousands of librarians nationwide develop and host cultural programs for adult, young adult and family audiences. The mission of the ALA Public Programs Office is to promote cultural programming as an essential part of library service in all types of libraries. Projects include book and film discussion series, literary and cultural programs featuring authors and artists, professional development opportunities and traveling exhibitions. School, public, academic and special libraries nationwide benefit from the office’s programming initiatives.

About StoryCorps

StoryCorps’ mission is to provide people of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, preserve and share their stories. Each week, millions of Americans listen to StoryCorps’ award-winning broadcasts on NPR’s Morning Edition. StoryCorps has published three books: Listening Is an Act of Love and Mom: A Celebration of Mothers from StoryCorps, and All There Is: Love Stories from StoryCorps — all of which are New York Times bestsellers. For more information, or to listen to stories online, visit storycorps.org.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums. Our mission is to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. Our grant making, policy development, and research help libraries and museums deliver valuable services that make it possible for communities and individuals to thrive. To learn more, visit www.imls.gov and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Here.  An excerpt:

The plight of indigenous youth became the central theme of the Dec. 3 White House Tribal Nations Conference, where Obama spoke about visiting the Crow Nation in Montana while campaigning to become president, and his recent visit to the Lakota reservation at Standing Rock, N.D.

“I made another promise, that I’d visit Indian Country as president,” Obama said to the conference’s attendees, including leaders from the 566 federally recognized tribes. “And this June, I kept that promise.”

We previously posted about the White House’s 2014 Native Youth Report here.