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Indian education act endorsed by school boards; state lawmakers to be lobbied

Dec 15, 2015 By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

The Wyoming School Board Association has approved an amended resolution supporting the 2015 Wyoming Indian Education Act for All, but much research and development is still necessary before it could take effect.

Since 2006, Wyoming Indian and Fort Washakie school districts have pushed for an Indian education curriculum that could be utilized by all school staff as well as students.

The 2015 act would seek to establish such a curriculum.

By passing this resolution, the WSBA agreed to lobby the Wyoming Legislature to approve the act. The Legislature convenes in February.

The WSBA is made up of school board members from across the state. It approved the resolution at its annual conference in November.

Similar resolutions presented to the WSBA in previous years did not pass.

Amendements

Fremont County School District 25 superintendent Terry Snyder said many unanswered questions hindered similar resolutions in the past.

He cited questions over the number of hours of instruction required, the party responsible for developing the curriculum, and local control measures as examples.

The present resolution passed after District 25 moved during the WSBA delegate assembly to ask the Wyoming Legislature to conduct an interim study before passing the act, and to make a recommendation based on it.

The study amendment is designed to help find answers to these questions.

"We thought maybe a different strategy to presenting that would help the resolution," Snyder said. "I think that was a positive result for a resolution that was becoming frustrating for the reservation's schools."

Many American Indian students are enrolled in Riverton schools. Out of the roughly 2,520 students enrolled in all Riverton schools, approximately 590 students are tribal members.

A representative of the Park County School District then amended that motion to ask the Wyoming Department of Education to conduct the study instead.

The study would "create a similar statute in Wyoming that Montana has for Indian Education for All," said School District 21 superintendent Terry Ebert said.

"The intent is to create a better understanding of the culture and government of Wyoming's original people and thus promote better relations between people."

Snyder said Ebert was supportive of the amendment despite his revisions. It was the change to the language, Snyder explained, that helped it receive traction this year that it had lacked in the past.

Despite the WSBA's support of research related to the act, Snyder said it will determine its support of a new curriculum only once the law is clear on the specifics and lays out the lessons.

"We endorse the idea of our students being knowledgeable on Native American history and the traditions and culture," Snyder said. "We can't say wether we support the curriculum or not because we don't know what it is, but we do need a good understanding of Native American history."

According to District 25, a summer Legislative interim study topic would be "perfect" for this purpose.

Curriculum support

While schools districts in Fremont County gathered local support for the curriculum and the WSBA moved forward with the resolution, the Wyoming Department of Education had already started working on curriculum development.

Bill Pannell, accreditation supervisor with the WDE, told the Select Committee on Tribal Relations Nov. 30 in Lander that the department is basing its work on similar Indian education curricula adopted in other states.

"Central to the framework to this idea, is essential understanding and web research."

Pannell said the WDE plans to develop web resources and lesson plans which can be integrated into other subjects at school.

"There will be units that can be imbedded into that curriculum," he said.

The curricula other states use will serve as models for Wyoming, Pannell explained, and help form the basic framework of a Wyoming standard.

Pannell said the DE had met with several parties in the state to discuss curricula as well, including tribal councils and state superintendent of public instruction Jillian Balow.

"We proposed a starting point for indian education for all," Pannell said.

Collaboration

Pannell told the tribal relations committee the WDE has drafted wording for an Indian Education for All curriculum. The committee urged Pannell to include educators from the reservation and help present a draft to the legislature.

Clint Wagon, a District 21 school board member and co-chair of the Eastern Shoshone Business Council, said he felt the state wanted reservation schools to develop a curriculum on their own.

Although he agreed with this grass-roots development, he said there was a "disconnect" between the schools and state school board that needed to be fixed.

"What has to happen is better collaboration and cooperation," Wagon said. "We talked to all the Fremont County School districts and got everybody's support."

A similar collaboration isn't seen between the reservation schools and the state, he reiterated.

Sen. Cal Case, R-Lander, chairman of the select committee, agreed that the American Indian population would know what best to teach, and should be included in the planning and research component.

June Shakespeare, a former school board member for school district 38, agreed as well. As an example, she noted that some words have different meanings to the American Indian population, and that it would be important to be careful when selecting educational materials as a result. Curriculums would need to be cautious of the use of words like "savage" and "massacre," she said.

"We need more coordination and we need to have a voice," she said, adding that school districts on the reservation have written out drafts outlining the curriculums.

Sergio Maldonado, the newly-appointed tribal liaison to the governors office, agreed with Shakespeare, and called the obstacle a "multifaceted dilemma."

"When we have the Indian problem we bring in the Indian expert and they're not Indian," he said.

Editor's note: Staff writer Christina George contributed to this story.

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