Native Americans seek more cultural awareness in Susanville's schools
Teresa Dixon, the tribal historic preservation officer for the Susanville Indian Rancheria, said the trustees might not appreciate the oppression Native Americans have suffered and “our kids need us to step up.”
While the Native American community traditionally addresses the board at its November meeting, Dixon said, “Once a year is not enough.”
She said the SIR represents four indigenous tribal groups —Maidu, Northern Paiute, Pit River and Washoe — that have lived in the area since the beginning of time. Each group has its own traditions, language, songs and religious practices, making the issue of cultural awareness even more complex.
According to a handout distributed at the meeting, SIR and SSD representatives met to discuss a number of issues on Tuesday, Nov. 13 and Wednesday, Nov. 14.
The representatives discussed changes in the curriculum to accurately represent native culture.
“Culture is misinformed, misguided and many misconceptions are created within the current school curriculum,” according to the agenda for the meeting. “Columbus did not discover America. The value of the native people and Native American culture, the respect for the land, the water, all living beings and all our relations to this earth are not being understood.”
Gary McIntire, superintendent of the SSD, said he will meet with Native American representatives in December to discuss the way Native Americans are presented in the classroom.
“We need to talk about how that might work,” McIntire said, “and what it might look like. We need to identify key players. What do we want to program to be in five years? We need to set some goals. Hopefully, all that will be discussed. From my perspective, I like the idea. I’m enthusiastic, particularly from the local standpoint.”
The superintendent said much of the curricula is determined by state-mandated content standards, but the district the district should be able to “include more native history, tradition and culture” and “find some balance. From my view, that’s a very positive goal.”
McIntire said he’s seen many changes since his he accepted his first job with the district in 1987. He said over the years he’s seen some Native American students who performed poorly, but now outcomes have gotten much better.
“We need to expect the native students will be successful,” McIntire said. “That needs to be a community expectation. If we expect kids are not going to be successful, that’s exactly what we’re going to get.”
Claudia Dunlavy-Reichle is the Title 7 coordinator for the SSD. The Title 7 program oversees federal grant money earmarked for Native American students.
Dunlavy-Reichle said the money supports the academic development of Native American students plus “recognizing and honoring cultural traditions” and making that part of the students’ education. She said the federal government is encouraging school districts to bring more cultural awareness to the schools.
She said she’s excited the SIR expressed an interest in expanding its partnership with the local school district.
Native American Indian Day, held on the fourth Friday in September is highlighted as a day to honor Native Americans in SSD classrooms, as many classes hold special events around that day.
November is National Native American Heritage Month, and that’s why the Native Americans address the board at its November meeting every year.
Tribal elders visit SSD schools and are involved in some events such as Read Across America.
Native Americans also are involved in the Community History Day events that involve all third-graders.
In addition, the district sponsored a field trip to the Roxie Peconom campground this year, the site of the annual Bear Dance.
Dunlavy-Reichle said the students learned about Native American traditions that are different for boys and girls. They also learned about how the Native Americans lived off the land.
SSD is considering additional field trips this year to increase Native American awareness, including one to Greenville and another to Captain Jack’s Stronghold in Modoc County.
Native American perspective
According to a handout written by Darlene Kawennano, that was distributed at the board meeting, many Native American Indian people suffer from intergenerational pain, grief, anxiety and stress which began hundreds of years ago with the onset of Manifest Destiny, a term loosely used to define the beginning of the end for many native people.
“It was the end of freedom, the end of our right to speak our language, sing our songs, educate ourselves by our elders, nature and our community,” the handout read. “Our dances were viewed as devil worship and our prayer, spirituality and healings were forbidden … ”
The Native American community passed this pain and trauma from generation to generation resulting in “disharmony, low self-esteem, cultural shame, loss of spirit, language, traditions and culture. The pain manifested itself in a lack of extended family and community bonding, increased domestic violence, child and elder abuse, alcoholism, drug addiction and internalized oppression.”
The cure, according to the handout, “requires empowering the family and community through the retraditionalization of Native American values, beliefs, spirituality and traditions.”
While many SSD teachers have sought to understand Native American culture, others have not, according to the handout.
“All teachers and counselors need to have cultural sensitivity/cultural diversity training which can be coordinated between the tribe and the district,” according to the agenda.
Dixon said the SIR was working with the college to develop a “college-bound” program to serve Native American students in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.
“It would be better for the Native American students if their culture was supported in the educational environment,” Dixon said.
Chris LaMarr, director of the Native American Studies program at Lassen Community College, said the program is one of the largest in the state and should attract a large native population from California, Oregon and Washington.
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