The two-day event in June will give 50 teachers the chance to learn about the state’s history through the lens of American Indians, according to Star Yellowfish, director of Native American Student Services for the district.
The training will feature panels on culture, Oklahoma history from a Native perspective, traditional meal, hands-on activities, and a visit to the Oklahoma History Center.
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“I think it’s really important for several reasons,” Yellowfish said. “One, they need to know Oklahoma has a rich history with the tribes. This land that we sit on was initially supposed to just be Indian Territory. If you look at the treaties, it was non-Indians or non-Natives were not supposed to be allowed in Indian Territory. And it could have gone that this certain part of the state would have been an all-Indian state. So, that to me is like, your red flag should go up and say, ‘There’s so much we don’t know.”
Her second point: there are 39 tribes based in Oklahoma, so teachers should be aware of the tribal communities in the area.
Additionally, teachers may not have an understanding of some of the challenges parents and grandparents of Native children face. Some of the parents and grandparents may have their strained relationship with the formal education system, she said. “I really need [teachers] to do some critical thinking and think beyond, ‘Oh, their parents just don’t care.’ Have it be, ‘Let me put the pieces together and figure out why they don’t care.’ That’s what I press on our teachers. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Really get to know your Indian child.”
At the minimum, she said, teachers should know the basics of Native culture and the state and who is in the state and where the state has come from.
Previously, the department has gone to a school if a principal requests them to. But this is the first time the training will be offered throughout the district.
The Oklahoma City Public Schools district is the largest in the state—90 schools, with nearly 40,000 students.
Of those, nearly 3,000 are Native American, or a little more than seven percent. “That might not seem like a lot in the grand scheme of things, but when they realize that some of their children in the classroom that may have a different last name and might gravitate toward their Mexican or Latino/a side, that they have a Native American mom or being raised by Native grandparents. There’s a big misconception in our school district that they might just get lumped in with the Latino or Latina kids. I want them to know you can’t judge them just on their last names or their appearance or even how they talk or how they hold themselves.”
Seventy-seven tribes from across the country are represented within the district, including 46 Oklahoma-based tribes, according to Yellowfish.
A few years ago, the Oklahoma City Public Schools system eliminated Land Run re-enactments. But Yellowfish said an alternative was also needed, so the department goes into elementary schools and teaches about the state’s history and the role Native Americans played in it.
“It’s really amazing to see what they retain,” she said of the elementary students.