Minnesota schools can do a better job of teaching about Native Americans’ history and present, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community said this month.
It’s putting $5 million and three years into a statewide effort to help that happen with more and better class plans, classroom resources and training and professional development for teachers and administrators.
Native and non-Native students alike will benefit from more understanding of themselves and connection with their communities, Mdewakanton Secretary-Treasurer Rebecca Crooks-Stratton and others said.
“The Native American story, it’s one that never gets finished in schools, and I think it’s one of the best American stories,” Crooks-Stratton said.
History classes on the subject often end with tribes’ forcible removal from U.S. lands and their suffering on and off reservations, she said. But tribes and nations have endured and, in many cases, thrived.
“If you carry it forward, it really is a story of resilience and hope and comeback.”
The Mdewakanton announced the effort during the 50th annual convention of the National Indian Education Association in Minneapolis on Oct. 10.
A report from the association on the country’s schools and education standards this month found Native Americans are left invisible to many of their neighbors. Most state history requirements on indigenous people don’t extend past the year 1900, for example.
Minnesota, home to the Mdewakanton and 10 other federally recognized tribes, has just a handful of full-time-equivalent state staff members and a few thousand dollars dedicated to Native American education, according to the report.
The state established a Tribal Nations Education Committee in 2007 that includes members of the 11 tribes and pushes for improvements in education policy. In 2018, for instance, the committee called on the state to recruit more Native American teachers and focus on helping Native students graduate and meet achievement standards.
But the group needs more help to meet its goals, Crooks-Stratton said; its members have other full-time jobs and few resources to make their ideas happen.
“We can always do better,” she said.
Crooks-Stratton said the initiative will likely work on several fronts for the next three years, such as compiling curricula that already exist and creating new class plans and training sessions in collaboration with Minnesota tribes, the Smithsonian Museum and other sources of historical information.
The Shakopee project could give a major boost to work that’s already being done in school districts like Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools, said Corinna Lyons, the district’s American Indian education coordinator.
Lyons, a member of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa in north Minnesota, stepped into the job in August and worked in mental health and Native cultural affairs before that.
Now her days are filled with culture-based field trips and other programs for around 180 Native American students, meetings with their families, training sessions with hundreds of teachers, preparation of historically accurate materials about Columbus Day and Thanksgiving, and countless other tasks.
“Every day is different, I’ll tell you that,” she said Thursday. “I help any way I can.”
The district has a Native parent advisory committee, has asked Native students about their class experiences and has had a coordinator like Lyons around for years — all to try to help those students succeed in school as much as any other group, said Kevin Schuttinger, director of teaching and learning.
As the Mdewakanton initiative gets rolling, Lyons said she hopes it can help enhance her cultural supplies, such as sage and bison hide, that could be used for art and history education or games in every school. The effort will also gather information from other tribes that she could easily put to good use.
“I think it’s going to be a natural component for me because that’s what we’re trying to do here,” Lyons said.