History is written by "those who win", so let's re-write it  

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5/20/2006 7:45 pm

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5/20/2006 7:46 pm

History is written by "those who win", so let's re-write it


Montana prepares to implement unique 'Indian education for all' law

© Indian Country Today May 12, 2006. All Rights Reserved

Posted: May 12, 2006

by: David Melmer / Indian Country Today

BILLINGS, Mont. - There are seven reservations in Montana and 12 tribal nations, but most state residents can't identify the reservations or tribes.

That will change, albeit gradually, as the ''Indian Education for All'' law becomes totally integrated in most Montana schools in the kindergarten through 12 grades.

In 1999 the Montana Legislature passed the ''Indian Education for All'' law that recognized the distinct and unique cultural heritage of the American Indians and to commit education goals to preserve that heritage and teach non-Indians as well. Eight percent of the state's population is American Indian.

In 2005 the state Legislature appropriated funding to implement the law and with the direction of the state's Office of Public Instruction the first ever, full-scale Indian education program will be integrated into public instruction in the 2006 - '07 school year.

For now, teachers need to be educated about the culture, history and government, and many have attended workshops and seminars that are funded by the Ready-to-Go grants from the OPI.

The Billings School District, the state's largest, is in close proximity to the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations. Billings partnered with the Little Big Horn Tribal College, the Crow Tribal College and Dull Knife Tribal College on the Northern Cheyenne reservation, and with the Western Heritage Center in Billings, to provide professional training on Crow and Cheyenne cultures and government. Forty teachers completed the program this spring.

''We are close to the Crow reservation and our teachers knew very little about Crow people,'' said Marcia Beaumont, director of Indian education for the Billings School District.

''We tried to get our teachers to know as much about the Crow and Cheyenne as possible,'' she said.

Beaumont, Blackfeet, is an experienced Indian educator and said she laughs at teachers who say that a child has so many gaps in their learning. She said she turns that statement around on the teacher and says that the teacher has huge gaps and lacks knowledge.

The Indian Education for All program is the first of its kind in the nation. Providing Indian education in all schools was directed by the state's constitution and was just recently funded. The $4.4 million for Indian education was awarded by the 2005 state Legislature, and additional funds for colleges and other grant incentives will add up to possibly $20 million, said Carol Juneau, Blackfeet, a state legislator who serves on the Appropriations Committee.

Juneau and other legislators had asked the Legislature for $23 million for Indian education and received only the $4.4 million, but additional funds were added in a special legislative session.

''This is an exciting time in Montana right now. This will give people a good idea of who their Indian neighbors are,'' Juneau said. ''In general there is a lot of hope and expectations. It is great for Indians who live on reservations or in urban areas.''

The state does not mandate a specific curriculum, but does set standards. School districts will be left to their own creativity to integrate American Indian education into every facet of the curriculum from music, science, physical education, reading, art, social sciences and all aspects of school life.

''The whole initiative is a grand experiment, based on the constitution, law and a court case, and we are developing a model to carry this out on a statewide level,'' said Denise Juneau, director of Indian education for the state of Montana.

Most schools are planning some sort of implementation for Indian education.

''We hear every day about what schools plan; they are being very thoughtful, and we recommend they be patient,'' Denise Juneau said.

The state has written a five-year plan that covers all aspects of the implementation of Indian education for all. Not every school will be the same because the state is providing an outline, but the schools do not have to follow the outline verbatim.

''Teachers have to be creative and they have to want this, they have to take ownership. You can give them a vocabulary book, but if they don't take ownership on how much is taught ... It's not as simple as developing curriculum. It's integrating into the system,'' Beaumont said.

The Billings district will hire two new people to act as coordinators, one for elementary and one for secondary schools for the next school year. Beaumont said these coordinators will act like coaches, to make sure the topic is being taught and help with methods and content.

Not all educators will latch onto the Indian education model. According to Beaumont, certain administrators are terrific and will roll up their sleeves and make it happen.

''It's going to happen in some classrooms with some educators, but not all,'' Beaumont said.

She said some of the people she works with in Billings are enthusiastic; there are people who have great ideas and want to make Indian education happen, she said.

Billings is one of 20 school districts that received the Ready-to-Go grant from the state. Billings received $26,000, which was used to partner with the colleges to instruct the educators about the Crow and Cheyenne cultures and government. Those workshops have ended.

In the interim, between school years, Billings's educators will meet to share ideas, develop a model and then speak with other districts about the plans.

Denise Juneau said that is the plan throughout the state: Exchange ideas on how to integrate the information into the existing curriculum, even though every school may not participate in the program.

''Eventually, next year, we will have a best-practices conference for the state. There is a lot of thought to it right now, and because it is so new a big we didn't have any idea what to do or what we wanted to do,'' Juneau said.

Important to the process is research; and students from Montana colleges are now researching the state's education issues and will put the focus on what works and what is positive with this new program, Juneau said.

The state Legislature provided $2 million for the research side of the program.

With the money appropriated so far, the funds the schools receive will be put into their general fund and will be hard to track, Denise Juneau said.

''The schools we talk to are very conscious of this act and they want accountability. This issue will come before the next legislative session,'' she said.

Support for this program comes from the top of the state Office of Public Instruction; while Denise Juneau was the only American Indian education specialist a few years ago, now there are eight staff members in the department. ''They are very professional and know their stuff,'' she said

Available lesson plans

Some lesson plans with data have already been implemented and are available to all school districts in Montana. They are available on DVD with such subject titles as ''American Indian Heritage Days,'' ''Critical Thinking on the Arrival of Columbus,'' ''Mascots Discussion,'' ''Language and Cultural Retention'' and others.

In the Forced Assimilation lesson plan, discussions on boarding schools, prohibition of the Sun Dance and potlatches are to be discussed.

A lesson plan on Non-Western Economic Values discusses the fact that not all cultures view wealth the same way.

Another lesson plan, ''Tribal Diversity,'' tries to accomplish what its title implies - an explanation that all tribes may share some similarities, but they are all different in many aspects of their beliefs, customs and traditions.

''Heroes at Home'' and ''Storytelling'' are two of the other lesson plans available.

To view the entire Indian Education for All program in Montana, visit www.opi.state.mt.us and click on ''Indian education.''

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Hear, hear!! Bravo for Montana to set an example for other states to get off their asses about Native American history/herstory..... ....

Respectfully,

SBT

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