When Shana Brown was in 11th grade, her US history teacher took a metal wastebasket, flipped it upside down, and started banging on it like a drum. “Go, my son, get an education! Go, my son, get off the reservation,” he sang. Brown had grown up on the Yakama Indian Reservation, but went to public school nearby.
“Yeah,” she says, letting several seconds pass after telling that story. We’re sitting at a cafeteria table on one of the basketball courts of the Chief Leschi School, a cluster of buildings set among fields of plump Puyallup Valley strawberries, raspberries, and rhubarb. A warm breeze drifts in from a propped-open door in the back.
Brown recounts this memory precisely, patiently, and sitting absolutely straight. She’s been teaching for 24 years. For the last seven of those years, Brown has taught language arts and social studies in Seattle Public Schools. But for nearly half the time she’s been teaching, she’s also been painstakingly crafting a curriculum that aims to correct the marginalizing Pilgrims-and-Indians version of history and Native culture so many kids in this state still learn. That’s why she’s here at Chief Leschi, a tribal school on the Puyallup Indian Reservation, with more than 30 eager teacher-trainers equipped with big, blue binders that read, “Since Time Immemorial: Tribal Sovereignty Curriculum.”
Teachers at the training are anxious about what happens next. In May, Governor Jay Inslee signed a groundbreaking piece of legislation that mandates Washington kids learn history, culture, and government with input from the state’s 29 federally recognized tribes. It goes into effect July 24, just in time for the start of the next school year.
Washington is only the second state in the country to require teachings about this country from its indigenous people; Montana was the first. But unlike the $4.4 million the Montana legislature allocated for its tribal curriculum, Washington’s law didn’t set aside any funding. Whatever funding there is comes from the tribes themselves, private organizations, and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s internal budget. Together, they’ve raised about $300,000. Read More…