Real Native History Won’t Be Taught in Schools This Year
Children across the country are heading back to school early this year. They’ll see their friends, sport new clothes and backpacks, meet new teachers and learn new subjects. But one thing most kids won’t learn is real Native American history. They will learn history from a non-Native perspective, and the history that shaped the conditions facing tribes today will be omitted.
Just ask your kids this: Why did the U.S. government establish Indian reservations? Most likely, they won’t know the answer… that the U.S. wanted to rid the country of its “Indian problem” and open Native lands to settlers. So, President Andrew Jackson signed The Indian Removal Act in 1830. This ushered in a forced displacement of tribes from their ancestral homelands – far away to regions “reserved” only for Indians – thus, the term reservations. The tribes relocated peacefully to protect their women and children. The problem is, the 500+ treaties they signed were then broken by the U.S. government. The settlers kept expanding westward, so the government took most of the reservation lands too, relocating the tribes once again to even less-desirable lands. Overall, the land once “reserved” for tribes shrunk to just 2.3% of the land originally promised by the United States.
Here’s another question for your kids: How did the U.S. decide where to locate the reservations? The answer… the U.S. put reservations in areas it regarded as unfit for settlers – unsuitable for agriculture and isolated from towns, transportation and the growing economy. These barren reservation lands play a major role in the food insecurity that affects 1 in 4 Native families today.
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Speaking of schools: What happened with the Indian boarding schools? The U.S. government ran Indian boarding schools under the motto “Kill the Indian, Save the man.” In short, they wanted Native kids to be like them. The U.S. government forcibly removed children from their families, and when families refused, food rations were withheld. Boarding school leaders abused Native children, forbidding them from speaking their language or wearing traditional clothing, cutting off their braids and using them for slave labor. If you’ve followed the news these past two years, you know many of these kids were never seen by their families again, and many graves have been discovered at Indian boarding schools.
Here’s one last question for your kids: If you were to visit a reservation today, what would you see? They might say teepees or Indians with long hair or even ponies. Some of that still exists, but reservations today are both traditional and modern communities. So, you would see proud people focusing on family and preserving their culture and traditions, which are unique to each tribe. There are 574 tribes with federal recognition in the U.S. and hundreds more that are state-recognized or not recognized at all. At the same time, in the reservation communities PWNA serves, poverty is the norm. It’s visibly difficult to see. But symptoms like these make it clear: a lack of infrastructure (clean drinking water, internet), lack of access (jobs, grocery stores, retail shopping), and modest or substandard homes.
Without local stores, many Native kids have a tough time getting school supplies too, and the first day of school will look different for them. So, as you send your kids off to school this month, instill in them a willingness to become more NativeAware™. To support Native kids for back to school, please donate today.