Nov 15, 2021 - Politics
Revisiting Indigenous curriculum in Austin schools
Native American veterans carry U.S. and tribal flags before entering the "Rocking the Rez" Pow Wow in 2016 in Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, Texas.  Photo: John Moore/Getty Images
Native American veterans carry U.S. and tribal flags before entering the "Rocking the Rez" Pow Wow in 2016 in Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, Texas. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

Educators at the Austin Independent School District are trying to reshape how Native American history and modern-day issues are incorporated in classroom curriculums.

Why it matters: For decades, the history of Native Americans has been largely told from a white, European perspective.

Now educators in Austin public schools — at Anderson High and Lively and Kealing middle schools, among others — are telling the stories of the Keystone pipeline, Standing Rock and missing Indigenous people within the U.S. and Canada, the district reports.

  • The classroom emphasis comes amid November's commemoration of Native American Heritage Month.
  • "The vast majority of these things, students have said they've never heard of," Elizabeth Close, who teaches Ethnic Studies at Anderson High, said. "I think often, we as a society and even as history teachers think about or teach about Indigenous people in the past tense, but it's important that students know about issues today."

Of note: In June, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill restricting how teachers can discuss racism in both current events and throughout U.S. history.

Skye Howell, a parent of a second grader at Becker Elementary School and a board member for Great Promise for American Indians, a nonprofit that organizes the Austin Powwow and American Indian Heritage Festival, said that "it's really important … to understand the truth of our shared history" and that her son "be represented in the classroom and that he sees himself and his people as those who have contributed to making our culture and society as it is."

  • "Native and Indigenous people were the foundations of this country, and we're still here," Howell said.

Howell said she hopes for more representation of Native American and Indigenous authors and contemporary Native American leaders throughout the curriculum district-wide.

Yes, but: State Rep. Matt Krause, a Fort Worth Republican who chairs the Texas House Committee on General Investigating, has launched an inquiry to identify books at public school libraries and classrooms on the subjects of race or sex that might "make students feel discomfort."

  • Among the books he highlighted in a letter announcing the investigation were ones about Native American history.
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