- Before building a new K-12 curriculum around Native American studies or updating an existing program, stakeholders should collaborate with Native scholars, staff and experts as part of the process, said Kim Vigue, executive director of the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian in Evanston, Illinois.
- For Vigue, starting with Indigenous communities is “a must” when building a Native American studies program, akin to bringing Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in when building an AAPI studies program.
- If there aren’t local experts to draw upon, curriculum designers can seek out professional development opportunities crafted by Native educators for their faculty and staff to participate in. This approach can help educators recognize and identify their own biases and best present the stories of Native Americans.
Many states — including California, Wisconsin and, recently, Connecticut — have developed or are beginning to construct Native American studies programs for K-12 students. Districts wanting to build a program of their own should include Native educators in the process, said Vigue, a former communications director for the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Education and an enrolled member of the Oneida Nation.
“If someone is telling the story that is not Native, it’s not told the best way,” said Vigue. “What professional development does is to remind us and undo what perceptions we have.”
She also encourages curriculum designers to think broadly and provide a larger overview of modern Native and Indigenous people, rather than stopping at the late 1800s, which she said can be typical in programs.
“Students then never get to hear about contemporary living Native people,” Vigue said, pointing to an article called "Frozen in time,” which discusses the harm to students — especially those from Native backgrounds — when they only see themselves depicted through the colonial era.
Schools and districts unsure of where to start can turn to the Smithsonian’s Native Knowledge 360, which offers K-12 curriculum resources across a broad range of subjects including history, art, math and science. There is also a professional development component, with some virtual options, said Vigue.
The Mitchell Museum is working on its own professional development component for teachers and administrators that will be more localized in focus. Vigue anticipates the program to be available when Illinois develops its own statewide Native American curriculum as an opportunity for educators to earn continuing education credits.
For now, the museum offers presentations about regional history for schools. For districts looking to bring local Native American history into their schools and classrooms, Vigue encourages stakeholders to reach out to regional experts.
“I would suggest they reach out to any Native American organizations or tribes in their region,” she said. “And if the tribes have their school, they probably have some they could adapt or share.”