Legislation to provide states with more comprehensive and accurate education on Native American history was introduced to Congress this past week in advance of Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Monday, October 9.
Led by Minnesota Senator Tina Smith, the Native Histories and Cultures Education Act would help improve how public schools teach Indigenous history to students in kindergarten through 12th grade by developing nationally focused curricula on Native cultural traditions, historical and ongoing contributions, and the evolution of the relationship between the federal government and tribal communities.
The proposed legislation was inspired by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community’s Understand Native Minnesota initiative to bolster education of Native history and culture in the state. Part of the campaign’s focus has been on changing the narrative typically taught in classrooms, which tends to focus on the past instead of highlighting Native peoples’ current experiences.
A 2015 study by Pennsylvania State University researchers found that 86.6% of state-mandated educational content only taught Native American history and culture in a pre-1900s context.
“Most education about Native Americans does not acknowledge the existence and vitality of modern Native communities. We have been mostly invisible,” Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Secretary and Treasurer Rebecca Crooks-Stratton told Hyperallergic. “This legislation will help correct the inaccurate narrative and increase the visibility of Native people across the country.”
Through the act, expanded educational curricula would be produced under the direction of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) and made with the direct involvement of tribal nations and organizations, as well as other groups focusing on Indigenous history education. The legislation would also implement a grant program, managed by NMAI, that would provide support to state educational agencies, tribal nations and organizations, and Native Hawaiian education groups to further develop existing curriculum.
These grants would help support the creation and establishment of educational programs on Native history and culture with a local and regional focus.
The Native Histories and Cultures Education Act was initially introduced to Congress last year in March before the Senate subsequently referred it to the Committee on Indian Affairs. The bill’s latest introduction comes at a pivotal time in public education, as critical race and queer theory is under attack by various right-wing legislators and conservative lobbyists.
“By sharing accurate information in our education system, we can improve younger generations’ understanding of the state’s tribes and Native peoples — which benefits all children, Native students and their non-Native peers alike,” Crooks-Stratton said.
Editor’s note 10/9/23 10:15am EST: This article has been update with a quote from Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Secretary and Treasurer Rebecca Crooks-Stratton.