Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Confederated Salish-Kootenai Member Brings Native American History to Public Education

I would like to share a really inspiring story that was forwarded to me by friend Sharon Kaplan. The story recently appeared in Miller-McCune.com the online community of the Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media and Public Policy and was about Julie Cajune, a member of the Confederated Salish-Kootenai Tribe in Montana. She is working to bring Native American history into the public education system of Montana so that school children will have a greater appreciation for the Native indigenous peoples history and relationship with the land.
Julie Cajune Education Native American Indians
This has been a tough road, as the article written by Joan Melcher highlights.

"Teaching of Indian history to Montana schoolchildren has not been without controversy. One of Cajune's early attempts to teach Indian culture ended amid a misunderstanding about a study of names that some took to be an Indian naming ceremony. They accused Cajune of "teaching spirituality" in the schools.

But Cajune knows that names can themselves be repositories of history. For example, the Salish word for Silver Bow Creek, which flows west from Butte to meet the Clark Fork River, is "The Place Where You Shot Fish In The Head." The names depict two very different realities. Silver Bow Creek was likely named by miners in Butte. For decades, beginning around 1870, it was a repository of arsenic and mercury tailings from mining operations, resulting in the largest Superfund toxic-waste cleanup project in the nation, downstream near Missoula. For the Salish, it was a stream so full of fish, you could walk across it on their backs, Cajune says."

This drive to bring Native American history into the educational system is not limited to Montana. Cajune sees this as only the start, and she has hope for the lives, history, and beauty of indigenous Native peoples to be incorporated into education around the country.

"Cajune would like to see the state's colleges become more involved in Indian education, noting that the constitutional amendment was not just aimed at K-12. On that score, she sees a need for the inclusion of Indian culture and history in many disciplines — not just in Native American studies classes. For instance, should there be a class on American Indian literature, or should works by American Indians be part of an American literature class? Should there be a class on Montana Indian history, or should that history be taught as part of Montana history? Cajune believes in the latter, in both cases.

For American Indians to join the mainstream educational community, Cajune says, they will need to be willing to share their culture. She hopes that groups of people who know their tribes' stories, languages and traditions — and are willing to explain them — can be formed. Success in Montana could have wide impact. Already educators and lawmakers in South Dakota and Washington state are considering integrating Indian history in their curricula and are studying Montana's approach."

The full article can be read here: A History in the Making: Julie Cajune leads a groundbreaking Montana initiative to compile American-Indian history and include it in public education.

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