Why Can’t California Public Schools Quit Teaching a Eurocentric Version of State History?

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The missions that the Spanish built in coastal California are beautiful tourist attractions, but their construction involved the enslaving, erasing, and killing the state’s native peoples. For High Country News, Allison Herrera reports on the activists and tribes working to change the way public schools teach California history. Herrera, a member of the Xolon Salinan tribe, describes the forces that shaped the current Eurocentric, whitewashed curriculum. The curriculum omits indigenous suffering, and centers the story around the missions, rather than one that predates the Spaniards’ arrival by thousands of years.

Greg Castro and Rose Borunda, a professor at California State University, Sacramento, and other educators and activists formed the California Indian History Curriculum Coalition in 2014. Much like Rupert and Jeanette Henry Costo, who founded the American Indian Historical Society, Castro and his peers are tired of seeing California’s history books ignore Indigenous people and gloss over the Golden State’s ongoing relationship — and violent history — with the land’s first people. And much like his forebears, Castro is taking a grassroots approach to create regionally and culturally specific curricula.

Borunda says that she and others in the coalition are part of a national movement to put more emphasis on a more accurate history of Native Americans for both elementary and high school students. She points to the state of Washington as a model for how to teach Native history. The curriculum called “Since Time Immemorial: Tribal Sovereignty in Washington State” has been endorsed by the 29 tribal nations in the state. It asks thought-provoking questions, such as, “What is the legal status of tribes who negotiated or who did not negotiate settlement for compensation for the loss of their sovereign homelands?” and “What were the political, economic, and cultural forces consequential to the treaties that led to the movement of tribes from long established homelands to reservations?”

“The focus is connecting students to the geography of this place, making them feel more connected to land and water,” says Sara Marie Ortiz, a citizen of New Mexico’s Acoma Pueblo, who worked closely with the Muckleshoot Tribe and with students in the Highline Public School District, just south of Seattle. Muckleshoot is a close partner in creating “Since Time Immemorial” with the school system.

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