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Native Leaders Advocate for Inclusion of Tribal History in Washington Schools
Miranda Lopez recalls her introduction to local Indigenous activist and athlete Rosalie Fish. Fish, a University of Washington runner from the Cowlitz Tribe, has gained national recognition for dedicating her races to Indigenous women who are missing or murdered, including her aunt, as reported by the Washington Magazine. Lopez, who also hails from eastern Washington, where Fish’s aunt is from, was struck by the revelation. It made her realize that such a pressing issue was happening in her own backyard. The information broke her heart.
Lopez’s exposure to Fish came through a class she took, which is part of Washington’s Since Time Immemorial program. This program, supported by all 29 federally-recognized tribes in the state, aims to implement a K-12 Native studies and history curriculum. The curriculum requires districts to collaborate with the tribes in their area and develop Native studies curricula, thereby raising awareness about Indigenous communities. Lopez was deeply impacted by this class and has since decided to pursue a career as a Native studies teacher.
While Since Time Immemorial is crucial for students like Lopez, it holds value for non-Native students as well, explained Willard Bill Jr., the assistant director of the Office of Native Education within the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. He emphasized the importance of educating all students about sovereignty, reservations, and other intricate aspects. Currently, there is no specified deadline for the implementation of the curriculum. Some districts are cooperating with tribes to establish the curriculum, but others have faced resistance from school boards. Legislation has been proposed to set standards and provide support for the curriculum’s development, but it failed to pass during the recent legislative session.
According to the 2022-2023 school year report from the State Board of Education, nearly 80% to 90% of school districts have started incorporating tribal history and culture into their social studies programs. This is a significant improvement compared to the previous year’s report, which indicated that 44% of districts were yet to implement tribal history and culture. However, without minimum standards in place, it is challenging to gauge the quality of the Since Time Immemorial curricula. That is why the proposed legislation, House Bill 1332, is crucial, enabling the establishment of standards and providing grants for the development of curricula. Although the bill did not pass in the recent legislative session, officials remain optimistic about its chances in the upcoming session.
The implementation of Since Time Immemorial has been a long process, starting in 1989. Tribes began funding the initiative in 2003, and subsequent legislation in 2005 urged the implementation of the curriculum. The work represents a legacy for Bill, whose father was among the first tribal leaders involved in developing the curriculum.
Aside from educating about historical contexts, Since Time Immemorial focuses on contemporary Native issues, deviating from the pre-1900 focus of many schools, as highlighted in a 2015 study. Alison McCartan’s Native history class at River Ridge High School exemplifies this approach. McCartan incorporates discussions about an app created to address the plight of missing and murdered Indigenous women, prompting students to consider ways to increase awareness and improve the app’s functionality. The class also adopts a “place-based” curriculum, emphasizing the local Indigenous communities and their perspectives.