By Annette Anderson, Lanette Aguero, Dr. Kenneth Roemer, and Kelly Tudor
Research underscores the need for excellent American Indian studies courses in high school: 40 percent of U.S. adults don’t know that Native Americans still exist, and 87 percent of textbooks don’t mention Natives after 1900. More than 90 percent of teaching materials about Natives are written by non-Natives — much of it superficial and fraught with inaccuracies and stereotypes. The lack of good instruction promotes ignorance, which leads to racism. A key member of our committee, Annette Anderson, LCSW, Chickasaw and Cherokee, says that as a child in Tulsa, Okla., she received accurate information about American Indians. But as a mother in Dallas during the 1980s, she had a different experience. “It is heartbreaking to have your children tell you that they were taught all Indians are dead and one kind were cannibals. How confusing is that for a child who just got back from a powwow with all their living grandmas, grandpas, uncles, and aunts?”
In 2018, after Texas approved a Mexican American Studies course, the state Board of Education welcomed other ethnic studies courses. African American Studies followed in 2019. At an Ethnic Studies Summit at Texas Christian University (TCU) in 2019, the Ethnic Studies Network of Texas asked if Grand Prairie Independent School District (GPISD), which educates students from 18 tribal nations, would develop a Native American Studies course. This opportunity to redress those statistics and improve individual lives had an enthusiastic response.
In February 2020 Monica Smith, GPISD Indian education coordinator; Peggy Larney, respected Choctaw elder; Lanette Aguero, GPISD PK–12 facilitator; and Scott Langston, a TCU professor, gathered 70 American Indian community members from Texas and Oklahoma along with education and Indigenous studies experts. In attendance was Jean Mendoza, who with Debbie Reese adapted Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s An Indigenous People’s History of the United States for young people. The participants considered “what should students know about Native peoples?”— as well as the seven “desired knowledge” areas (called “strands”) required by the state: history, culture, geography, government, citizenship, economics, and science and technology.
In the next stage a committee was formed comprising members from 14 Native nations and non-Natives. High school teachers, professors, and community members served. Our charge was to draft standards for the required seven strands. Via many Zoom meetings, we addressed (1) naming the course “American Indian/Native Studies,” a combination name reflecting an openness to considering alternatives; (2) rearranging the order of the strands by beginning with culture and moving up science; (3) avoiding colonizing language as we defined concepts; and (4) enumerating specific topics for students to “explore” and “analyze.” For example, to help students understand the impact of Native worldviews on the development of science, teachers ask students to “explore” the traditional Native emphasis on interconnections and “analyze” the connections between this worldview and the current emphasis on interdisciplinary sciences. To clarify and complement the standards, we added multiple examples and reference sources. We held training sessions for Grand Prairie teachers.
In the fall, a GPISD pilot course taught by Mica Maldonado (Seminole, Choctaw, Chickasaw) and Kimberly Rafalski tested our work. That test informed revisions to our standards. In January 2022, the district applied to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) for Innovative Course status. Unfortunately, TEA returned the course for revisions and because the state is considering reducing the “strands” requirement from seven to four. We will resubmit next year. If all goes well, the next steps will be TEA and then approval for state standards. In 2024–25, the course can, we hope, be taught throughout Texas.
We realize politics, legislative actions, educational budgets, and many other variables could further slow or derail progress. But we fervently believe that the effort is worth the struggle so that Texas students can have the course they need and deserve.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Annette Anderson, LCSW, Chickasaw/Cherokee, Council for the Indigenous Institute of the Americas, chair of the annual Santa Fe Days American Indian Arts and Cultural event
Lanette Aguero, PK-12 social studies facilitator for Grand Prairie ISD, chair of the committee designing the American Indian/Native Studies course
Dr. Kenneth Roemer, emeritus fellow, UT System Academy of Distinguished Teachers; professor emeritus, UT Arlington
Kelly Tudor, Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas, educator, curriculum consultant, advisory board member for an education company