PORTLAND, Oregon—What would it be like to grow up Native American in our preK-12 school system? No one would know this better than Terri Reed, the first graduate of the American Indian Urban Teacher Program (AIUTP) at Portland State University.
Terri Reed is a single mother of three and a member of the Chickasaw Nation. Her light skin and blonde hair do not readily reveal her heritage. That’s the problem in a nutshell she says. Our perceptions of others are often largely based on first impressions and the stereotypes we carry with us, reinforced by American media and pop culture. “This program is so important because people are identified every day by skin color,” says Reed, who is the first person in her family to obtain a master’s degree after colonization.
It wasn’t always this way, Reed explains. The Chickasaw Nation was at one time highly educated and operated successful businesses. Four generations ago, her grandfather ran a lucrative ferryboat business on the Red River. That was before the Trail of Tears, a dark time in American history when President Jackson presented a message to Congress that justified the removal policy established as the Indian Removal Act of May 28, 1830. This act allowed the military to force the five major tribes from their lands onto reservations in Oklahoma to allow for westward expansion. Gone was the land, gone were their rights, and they no longer had access to education. Tribal schools were built later, but were primarily an attempt to assimilate Native Americans into European-American culture.
For Terri Reed, who cherishes growing up in the Chickasaw culture, education means everyone working together. The learning style of her family and her people is experiential, and everyone participates in the activities of the family. “Adults lead in a nurturing way,” she says. “Native American children [in schools today] are not learning because they are used to hands-on instruction and in our schools today, teaching is directive.” This perspective informs Reed’s teaching practice and she is uniquely able to understand how to adapt lessons to diverse students in her classroom.
Reed, who is a member of Kappa Delta Pi, an honor society that recognizes outstanding contributions to education, was encouraged to apply for the AIUTP scholarship by special education professor Amanda Sanford. “It is critical that we have educators who are trained to work with a full range of students from differing cultural and linguistic backgrounds, as well as students identified with disabilities,” says Dr. Sanford. “The combination of knowledge of how to effectively educate our Native population and students with disabilities is something we should continue to strive for in education. I am glad Terri has been supported by the Native American Educator program.”
Reed’s initial field experience was in Parkrose School District and she completed her student teaching experience in Woodburn’s predominantly multicultural schools. She has completed a special education licensure program and a master’s in education and is looking forward to her first teaching job.
The AIUTP program was created through a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to address the scarcity of minority and Native American teachers in the United States. The AIUTP will prepare 18 new, fully licensed teachers, providing tuition and living stipends. Principal investigators on the grant are Dr. Micki Caskey from the Curriculum and Instruction Department and Dr. Cornel Pewewardy from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Program director is Dr. Maria Tenorio in the Graduate School of Education.
A Native American perspective
By Terri Reed
There is a “disconsciousness” in our country even today based on stereotypes. We find it in our history books, which still do not yet depict the history from the eyes of the Native Americans. It would be as though we wrote of the Civil War and the African American struggles but only wrote from the standpoint of the confederates and slave owners. Oppression of Native Americans happens every day based on the stereotype that is posted everywhere. Even our money that we all must use to buy food and the necessities for sustaining life are covered with mixed messages. President Lincoln, though a great man, also oversaw the greatest number of hangings of Native Americans. When we see the world from one viewpoint, all the while oppressing others, we are not growing as a nation. I believe that by bringing Native American teachers into our school system, we change the old image of Native Americans. In my opinion, history does not have to be rewritten, it just has to have some accurate chapters added to it.