Tribe completes eighth-grade history curriculum

08.12.2016 Brent Merrill Culture, Education, History, Tribal Employees

The Grand Ronde Eighth Grade Tribal History curriculum unit has been released to the public and is already being shared with Oregon schools.

The new curriculum began as a pilot project in 2014 that was funded mostly by an Administration for Native American’s Social and Economic Development Strategies grant.

Seeing the need for culturally relevant and historically accurate educational information for Oregon students as a priority, the Tribe’s Education Department began work on a fourth-grade curriculum project that has been in public schools for two years. The Tribe’s newly released eighth-grade curriculum is a follow-up to that successful project.

The fourth-grade curriculum provided lesson plans to Oregon schools in social studies.

Tribal member and Tribal Curriculum Adviser Mercedes Reeves was the lead content writer for the eighth-grade curriculum project and she said the first year of the two-year-long effort was all about creating and developing materials for the curriculum. The second year of the project is the pilot year when the materials are actually used in the classroom.

“The curriculum had the same process (as the fourth-grade curriculum), but we took a different approach with it in the sense that it’s not just social studies focused,” said Reeves. “There is a social studies lesson in it as well as language arts, math, science and an art lesson. We tried to make it cross-content so that the information could be integrated anywhere and everywhere.”

The eighth-grade curriculum consists of 17 lessons that provide information on the time before the Tribe was terminated, information on when the Tribe was restored, information on the Tribe’s sovereignty, information on the Tribe’s Trail of Tears, the assimilation of Tribal people, the laws and treaties of the Tribe, an explanation of the Tribal Court system, language, basketry and the history of the Tribe’s plankhouse and Canoe Family.

The curriculum includes a glossary, maps, teacher resources and a list of common core standards that are met within the curriculum.

Reeves said that five teachers in the Willamina School District piloted the curriculum in their classrooms during the 2015-16 school year. Tribal staff worked with the teachers and information was gathered on how effective the curriculum was for students.

“I felt like I got good feedback from the teachers in order to make the lessons more user friendly within their classroom,” Reeves said. “I felt like it went really well.”

Reeves said history is deep and Tribal history adds to that depth.

“I hope the teachers use it as a resource to start telling Oregon history from more perspectives,” said Reeves. “There is more to Oregon history than just Lewis and Clark and the Oregon Trail. Our Tribal sovereignty plays a big role in Oregon history and in the present day, and I think that is something important not just for our teachers and students to understand, but everybody. We are a really unique state in the sense that we have nine federally recognized Tribes and each one of us holds a government-to-government relationship. I think that is something that is really important.”

Tribal member and former Tribal Education Department Manager April Campbell said the eighth-grade curriculum is exactly what was envisioned when the Tribe started working on the fourth-grade curriculum years ago.

“We recognized that there was a real need for not only a Native curriculum in the classroom, but specifically an Oregon Native curriculum that is accurate historically and contemporarily,” said Campbell, who currently is an adviser on Indian Education to the State Deputy Superintendent. “I think it’s fabulous.”

Campbell said the curriculum was designed to have the most impact on students and that that was the reason behind the timing of the fourth-grade curriculum and now the eighth-grade curriculum as well.

“We started with the fourth grade because in Oregon that is when you start learning history,” said Campbell. “Moving to the eighth grade, we thought that would be a good next transition because as you enter high school there is a lot of opportunity to learn more about Oregon history, but also about government specifically. We thought it would be a good time to share about Tribal government.”

Bringing knowledge to all students is important, said Reeves, but in particular she said having a more accurate picture of Tribal people will ultimately help Native students as well.

“To me, it makes them (Native students) more knowledgeable just about the role that they played in the place that they live,” said Reeves. “The more knowledge and the more information you have, the more able you are to become a critical thinker. I think it’s important for people to understand, not just kids, but people to understand that we are still here today and we are still practicing our culture and we’re still thriving as a community and as a Tribe.”

Campbell said that Native students will benefit from a more accurate portrayal of their Tribal history.

“We know our students do better when this is incorporated into the classroom,” said Campbell.

Tribal Council member Chris Mercier said he remembers being taught a broad history of Tribal people throughout the country when he was in the eighth grade.

“It’s something I think should happen in every state because the story of the Tribes in every state is totally different,” said Mercier. “I think this goes back to Restoration. A fundamental part of getting restored was having to tell our story to the right people. And here now we are telling our story to the general public and making sure that kids who grow up in Oregon are familiar with Tribal people here. I think it’s good that people know about the regional differences about the Tribes in the state.”

Tribal Council member Tonya Gleason-Shepek said she is hoping other Tribes will join in the effort to educate Oregon school children on Tribal history.

“I hope we start a trend,” said Gleason-Shepek. “Everyone is excited about it. I hope the other Tribes can look at what we’ve done and also get some of the other Oregon Tribes’ histories in the books and in schools.”

Reeves earned the praise of Tribal Education Director Leslie Riggs for her work on the curriculum.

“I am very proud of the hard work and determination that was put into this curriculum,” said Riggs. “It is fabulous in content and the depth and breadth of the lessons is enormous.”

Riggs said many people were involved in making the curriculum a success and they all deserve praise for their efforts to make things better for Native students in Oregon public schools.

“That it was a collaboration by many Tribal departments also makes me proud,” said Riggs. “I want to say that I am especially grateful to Mercedes Reeves who as the lead curriculum writer did a wonderful job. I am delighted that the curriculum is garnering interest from school districts and that it is receiving rave reviews.”

Campbell pointed out the work of former curriculum specialist Trinity Minahan and former classroom teacher Kathy Cole as being outstanding support for the project.

“I really give a lot of kudos to Trinity who started the project and Kathy who really provided a lot of support and content into how we laid this out,” said Campbell. “To be able to hand teachers something that is classroom ready I think is really important in the whole process.”

Tribal Council Chairman Reyn Leno said having a complete eighth-grade curriculum in Oregon schools has been a goal of Tribal Council for some time.

“I think it is so important and I think a lot of the membership doesn’t realize how passionate Tribal Council has been to get the correct history, not only for Grand Ronde, but for all nine Tribes in Oregon,” said Leno. “It teaches students about why we have a government, why we are allowed to create law, why we have our own law enforcement and why we have our own courts. It totally will let them know what it’s all about for us.”