Believe it or not, but for the last eleven years there’s been a law in Washington State requiring schools to teach Indian Education.
I had no idea.
Fortunately I was already teaching Indian Education as part of my social studies curriculum. In fourth grade we focus on the basics: comparing and contrasting the Coastal and Plateau tribes and studying the Native Americans’ disastrous encounters with the settlers in the 19th century.
Last year, however, I became aware of an amazing resource created by Indian-Ed.org. OSPI, along with several state tribes created curriculum for all grade levels. It’s free, it’s online, and from what I’ve seen, it’s awesome.
I can already hear some of you saying, “Seriously? Something else to pack into my year?” Trust me, I had the same response when I was asked to be part of a team piloting the materials for my district. In fact, every teacher in the room had the same response, probably because we were already stressed out trying to figure out how to use our brand-new writing adoption.
So my partner and I decided that instead of trying to squeeze in a new Indian-Ed unit, we would simply integrate it into one of our new writing units. We picked the persuasive writing unit and had our kids write about the Boldt Decision.
The Boldt decision happened in 1974 when Federal Judge George Boldt ruled that Native Americans were entitled to half the salmon caught in Washington State waters. The decision, based on treaties signed in the 19th century, had a huge impact on tribal culture as well as the local fishing industry.
After studying the importance of salmon in tribal culture, our students learned about the fishing industry in Puget Sound, as well as the growing conflict over the dwindling numbers of fish. We helped our kids understand why Boldt made his decision and talked about its impact on the state. Then they got to write a persuasive essay, explaining why they agreed or disagreed with the ruling.
It turned out really well. The discussions were rich and the writing was passionate. Although most of my students agreed with Boldt, not all of them did, and they were all able to use critical thinking to defend their opinions. Some of my students even got to discuss their writing on a video that was shared with the Tulalip Tribe, our district’s local Indian-Ed partner.
This is definitely a unit I’ll use again.
I encourage those of you who teach social studies to browse the Indian-Ed curriculum page. I can’t say I’ve vetted all the materials from K through 12 (nor am I qualified to) but judging from the fourth grade materials, this is good stuff.
Give it a look. It’s important for our students to know accurate information about the people who used to live here.
And it’s the law.