Tribal committee meets in Lander, approves bill for American Indian education programNov 18, 2016 By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer
The Select Committee on Tribal Relations agreed on Tuesday to move forward with the American Indian Education program.
The program was created to help bring educational material about American Indians to all schools across the state, with an emphasis on the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes.
The education program, formatted as a bill for the next legislative session, is a revised version of the American Indian Education Act for All, which lacked support in previous select committee meetings.
The original bill stipulated that teachers would be required to obtain specific American Indian education if they were planning to teach in Wyoming.
In June of 2016, the select committee directed then-Eastern Shoshone tribal liaison Leslie Shakespeare to head a task force to come up with language for the new bill. It was submitted to the Legislative Service Office in October, and the LSO released a draft bill at the beginning of November.
After lengthy discussion, the select committee voted 6-0 on Tuesday to support the amended version.
Social studies consultant for the Wyoming Department of Education Rob Black presented the bill and suggestions.
"This is a monumental first step," Black said, noting how this piece of legislation has gotten this far and will begin a new, lengthy process at the state legislature.
He said legislation addressing American Indian education has never made it this far.
The committee discussed the length of time -- one year -- given for schools to adopt the program and then the time for implementing it into classrooms.
One suggestion was to wait until the state's social studies standards are reviewed in a couple of years.
"By doing it this way it would put the horse before the cart," Black said. "The idea is to give (schools) a little more bumper."
The social studies standards for Wyoming were recently reviewed and revised in 2014 and have been in place since then. They are reviewed every nine years.
The committee expressed concern that if they waited until the next social studies standards were revised, then American Indian education in Wyoming schools would be delayed even longer.
"We have to get the words right to make it flexible enough and make certain that it happens," said Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander.
Another member of the committee, Sen. Bernadine Craft, D-Rock Springs, agreed it was critical to get the curriculum going as soon as possible.
"To me, the sooner we can do this the better," she said.
By approving the bill with the amendments, Black said the WDE and the Wyoming State Board of Education would re-open the social studies standards. Black explained that the process would be like a "surgical operation" that would go in the standards and look at ways to tie in Indian education without disturbing what has already been established.
"We can go in there without waiting until 2023," Black said.
In an email later in the week, Black explained why the WDE prefers to open the standards first.
"It helps school districts with choosing curriculum and preparing teachers, (and) all districts would be working from the same directive or frame of reference," he said.
He added that theory applies to all standards, not just the Indian education bill.
"The standards serve as a floor or a guidepost for the districts," Black said. "To mandate adoption of an education program without standards is somewhat like putting the cart before the horse. Plus, revising standards first allows the opportunity for teacher training prior to the coursework being offered to students."
Scotty Ratliff, a member of the state board of education, mentioned that American Indian education didn't have to be taught only in social studies. Sen. Craft echoed his comments and suggested changing words in the bill to allow teachers to use the curriculum for other subjects or activities.
Eastern Shoshone Business Council Chairman Clint Wagon chimed in and said the curriculum should be a grass-roots effort and both tribes should have the opportunity to approve what information should be shared and taught.
"If you look at the two tribes you'll see they have two different histories, different stories, traditions," Wagon said. "We've got to be able to corral that in first."
Black agreed that it would be critical for the curriculum to be developed by tribal members. Ratliff and former Wyoming Indian schools superintendent Michelle Hoffman also supported the idea to have educators and elders from the tribes approve curriculum.
Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, liked the idea as well.
"I agree with tribal input, but there has to be an organization there, and that organization doesn't exist," he said. "I really want to move something forward."
Fremont County School District 21 (Fort Washakie) superintendent Terry Ebert stressed that there had to be some criteria in place to authenticate the information in the curriculum.
"There's a deep concern in the real understanding of tribes throughout the state," he said.
Case mentioned that there is a possibility that the committee may not be able to submit this bill because of a new rule limiting submissions by select committees. If they can't submit it, however, Case noted that committee members could sponsor or co-sponsor the bill individually.
"I'm very anxious to move this forward," Craft said. "This is very important to me."