Sunday, October 17, 2021
Oct. 17, 2021

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Oregon schools slowly rolling out indigenous studies curriculum

The lessons will be taught in five subject areas


ROSEBURG, Ore. — Inside a room at the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians’ new tribal community center are three framed sketch drawings by a Native artist.

K’Ehleyr McNulty, the tribe’s youth development specialist, pointed to a drawing of a traditional Cow Creek home — a plankhouse, with planks partially in the ground.

“That keeps you warmer in the winter and cooler in the summertime,” McNulty explained.

Another sketch depicted life near the river. A third showed a woman cooking camas root.

McNulty said the images will be a part of a local lesson on traditional ways of living and the technologies the Cow Creek people used.

“Just because it happened in the past doesn’t mean it was primitive,” McNulty said.

McNulty is part of a team collaborating with the South Umpqua School District on curriculum specific to the Cow Creek tribe. It’s one element of a major change for Oregon’s public schools: Starting this year, Oregon schools are required to teach tribal history and the Native American experience in class.

The curriculum will roll out as 45 lessons for fourth, eighth and 10th grade classrooms, with plans to add more grades in the future.

Signed in 2017, Senate Bill 13 requires the curriculum, called “Tribal History/Shared History.” It’s part of the state’s strategy to implement “historically accurate, culturally embedded, place-based, contemporary, and developmentally appropriate” American Indian and Alaska Native curriculum.

The curriculum won’t be available until January and there’s a lot of work to be done before then.

From English to math

The lessons will be taught in five subject areas — from English and social studies to math and science.

Nine “essential understandings” serve as the foundation for the lessons. They’ll range from language and sovereignty to sensitive topics like identity and “genocide, federal policy and laws.”

“It’s really focusing on Indigenous ways of knowing, thinking and doing,” said April Campbell, the Indian education adviser to Oregon’s deputy superintendent of public instruction.

This is the first time the Oregon Department of Education has been responsible for creating curriculum.

To write the curriculum, ODE contracted with Education Northwest and consultant Shadiin Garcia.

For Garcia and Campbell, the curriculum represents more than a few new lessons. It has the ambitious goal of giving students an accurate representation of the life of Native people in Oregon.

“It actually enhances and corrects and addresses the misconceptions and the current erasures in curriculum across five subject areas,” Garcia said.

They say the lessons will align with state standards and objectives.

In addition to the state-mandated lessons, school districts located around Oregon’s nine tribes will also have access to localized material, like the sketches being incorporated in the Cow Creek lessons. The idea is for students to learn about their Native neighbors and how they live today.

As a tribal advocate for South Umpqua School District, Renae Guenther works on boosting Native American student attendance by bringing in speakers and hosting cultural events for the community. She’s also a Cow Creek tribal member and is working with the tribe’s youth development specialist, McNulty, to bring tribal lessons to South Umpqua schools.