Representatives from the Puyallup Tribe met with history and civics teachers in Fife schools last week to work with the teachers to fix any misconceptions they may have about the Tribe and its history and culture.
The idea is for Fife schools to cover a wider range of Native American issues outside of the usual curriculum and to bring instruction to include modern Indian activities and issues. Puyallup Tribe and Fife Schools recently entered into this educational venture and it’s showing to be very successful.
“We’re trying to help teachers not view our Tribe’s history, or any Indian education, as scary and foreign. We’re here to have it taught correctly,” said the Tribe’s Historic Preservation Outreach Specialist Jennifer Keating Hallberg.
The district seems grateful for the opportunity. “What we have are some bits and pieces,” said Suzanne Shade, the district’s elementary school curriculum director, noting that many grade-school classes celebrate the start of the salmon runs in the fall but don’t cover Indian issues much after that. “What we want to do is put all the pieces together.”
The district has developed a roster of books and materials on a host of Native American topics for teachers of all grades within the district, as well as works to promote Washington State Office of Public Instruction’s “Since Time Immemorial” project that provides web based videos, curriculum and teaching materials concerning the 29 federally recognized tribes in the state. The site is designed to be scalable so teachers can spend a few hours or several weeks on specific issues, depending on the age of the students and the focus of the class. It also offers suggestions to engage local tribes in their studies.
While the effort to include more Indian issues in public schools is new to Washington, it is farther along in other states. It has been mandatory in Montana for more than a decade, for example. In Washington, state law only recommends inclusion of tribal history in all public schools.
The drive by the Puyallup Tribe for getting its culture and issues in the classrooms more completely centers on the idea of filling the information gap between what people think they know about Indians and the historical facts around fishing and other issues facing the Tribe.
“We are helping these teachers as well as helping the kids,” said Jennifer Keating Hallberg. “People just don’t know.”
She said Tribal staff gives several free tribal history presentations a month to local schools and businesses to battle ignorance about Native American issues and culture.
One of the issues addressed, for example, was tribal fishing rights since fish play such a vital role in the Tribe’s culture and household economics.
“This was, and continues to be many Tribal members’ livelihoods,” she said. “(Tribal members) were beaten, maced and arrested for fishing to feed their families” during clashes with police and state agencies in what has been called the “fishing wars” era of the 1960s and 1970s.
That era pitted Washington state officials against the federal government in much the same way as the Civil Rights battles in many Southern states. State agencies wanted control over the fish management and quotas while the federal government and tribes successfully argued that tribes had the right to an equal share of the harvest and in the role of fisheries managers. Much like during that anti-segregation struggle, federal agencies were battling Washington agencies and politicians over the enforcement of court orders concerning fishing rights outlined by treaties already in place.
“It was a very dramatic time,” Puyallup Tribal attorney John Bell said.
State agencies wanted control over the fish management and quotas while the federal government successfully argued that tribes had an equal share.
Another issue discussed was how tribal lands and government allotments were taken from Puyallup people. Common methods included trickery such as a non-tribal man marrying a tribal woman who owned land and then selling the property for his own gain or having himself appointed an Indian’s “guardian” only to then sell that Indian’s land for profit.
Historically accurate classroom lessons on these issues and more are working their way into Fife schools this year, while nearby Tacoma School District works on a similar track of classes.
David Syth of the Crow Nation is the Indian education coordinator for Tacoma schools and handles both cultural issues facing Native American students in public schools as well as educating non-tribal students about Indian issues.
“My goal is to have something in every building,” he said, noting that he makes sure teachers know about resources and materials available to them as well as coordinates special projects and presentations around the district. “I think we have grown a lot.”
Teachers have web-based materials and a roster of speakers at the ready to cover Indian issues in their classrooms. The challenge, David Syth said, is not teachers unwilling to add Indian enrichment to their lessons but the issue of teachers already being overwhelmed with just trying to keep up with the ever-increasing mandates and not knowing about lesson plans already available to them.
“It is about letting teachers know that these resources exist,” David Syth said.
People can view the classroom material for their own education by visiting: www.Indian-Ed.org.