By Lee Egerstrom
A thorough research study of K-12 education in Minnesota drives home the need to develop appropriate, and timely, education materials for use in classrooms and at programs to help educators gain knowledge necessary to teach about Native Americans.
The study, described as a first-of-its-kind report, was commissioned by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community as part of its ongoing Understand Native Minnesota education and training philanthropic campaign. The SMSC program is a $5 million undertaking launched in 2019. The report is called “Restoring Our Place: An analysis of Native American resources used in Minnesota’s classrooms.”
Odia Wood-Krueger, an educational consultant (Wood Krueger Initiatives) with two decades of teaching experience in both Minnesota and Saskatchewan, Canada, authored the report. An Indigenous person and member of the Central Urban Metis Federation in Saskatoon, she said she is both concerned about the lack of available materials for use by educators in Minnesota classrooms and excited by how conscientious educators reach out to gain knowledge and materials they can use.
“Many are really going well above and beyond the call of duty to find their own resources,” she told The Circle. “I am really happy from what I’m seeing individuals do,” she added.
There is a “but,” however, with that compliment. Much of the work individual educators are doing comes from painful experiences where teachers learned they had to gain more knowledge.
Much educational material is time sensitive. Much looks back to the colonization period in Indian country and is filled with stereotype descriptions of Native life and cultures. “No. We don’t live in teepees anymore,” Wood-Krueger said.
That is what the Shakopee Mdewakanton tribe recognized when it launched the Understand Native Minnesota project three years ago.
Rebecca Crooks-Stratton, SMSC secretary/ treasurer and chair of its education project, said the project was started to help SMSC and “strategic partners” prioritize activities for thought leadership, collaboration and grant making to improve what is being taught about Native American experience, “both past and present.”
“We hope the findings and recommendations of this report will encourage our state and local policymakers, fellow tribal leaders, and education leaders to join us on the journey to improve future generations’ understanding of the Native experience and contributions to our state, she said.
Wood-Krueger said 37 percent of Minnesota educators who teach about Native Americans responded in a survey that they have not had professional development training for what they are teaching. In addition, they lack comprehensive access to books, websites and other materials that could help them prepare for classes on Native American subject matter.
Appendix 2 in the report will help educators secure some materials. Wood-Krueger and a group of academic advisors for the study have assembled the 12-page appendix from survey respondents listing books and other sources that might be of help.
The list also has shortcomings. It contains sources that she recommends, some which she doesn’t recommend, and others that were merely brought to her attention and she hasn’t studied to offer a recommendation.
“I don’t mean to bash book publishers,” she said, but she wants to see more materials that don’t perpetuate stereotypes of Native Americans and their culture. “I want to push for more authentic authors … books and materials by Native people, not about Native people.”
The research project is built on surveys of teachers and education officials that drew 617 responses from 235 Minnesota public school districts, charter and private schools; and from 14 educational organizations. Among the respondents were 542 teachers. They came from 80 of Minnesota’s 87 counties.
Six recommendations came out of the “Restoring Our Place” report for educators, educational institutions and policy makers to consider to increase access to materials and training.
Tribal and Native expertise is needed to change who creates Native-related content from primarily non-Native now to Native and “Native-competent” people, the report said. This should be done to development cultural standards and understanding with Minnesota’s 11 sovereign tribal nations.
A second recommendation calls for creating an online repository of resources educators might use. Wood-Krueger said her appendix material is a start.
Another related recommendation calls for developing standards-aligned resources with emphasis on creating new curricula, textbooks and “online resources in collaboration with Native communities in the state.”
The other recommendations included:
“Design high-quality professional development programs to provide current and future teachers and administrators with specific training in the culturally appropriate instruction of Native content.
“Expand the ability for Native experts to share their knowledge in classroom settings with expanded opportunities for Native language and cultural experts outside of traditional licensure.”
And, the report also requests, “Create on online ‘Indigenous Education for All’ course for Minnesota adults and children for various grade levels so that parents can learn alongside and support their school-age children.”
An irony is that these steps are not likely to face opposition. But history shows they can be ignored.
A survey conducted for the Shakopee Mdewakanton when they launched Understand Native Minnesota project found 90 percent of Minnesotans favor teaching more Native American content in K-12 classes.
The Understand Native Minnesota project pulled together an advisory panel steeped in Native education experiences to work with Wood-Krueger. They included:
– Danielle Grant, president and CEO of AchieveMpls, a nonprofit organization that works with schools on career and college readiness programs. A member of the Little Shell Ojibwe Tribe of Montana and a Turtle Mountain Ojibwe descendant, she is currently the board chair for the American Indian OIC in Minneapolis and in the past held various positions with Minneapolis Public Schools, included director of American Indian Education.
– Joaquin Munoz is currently on the faculty and works on curriculum at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. His interests and studies of race and culture comes from growing up on the Pascua Yaqui Indian Reservation in Arizona with mixed Mexican American parentage.
– Iyekiyapiwin Darlene St. Clair is associate professor at St. Cloud State University where she teaches American Indian Studies classes and directs the university’s Multicultural Resource Center. She is a member of the Lower Sioux Indian Community. (See companion article on her programs.)
– Tlahtoki Xochimeh, a native of Mexico and a member of the Nahua tribe, holds diverse positions in Minneapolis and teaches courses on Indigenous people and cultures at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.
The “Restoring Our Place” report can be accessed through SMSC’s separate project organization, UnderstandNativeMN.org, or at its podcast site, https://www.understandnativemn.org/podcast.