Indian education bill passes House on second readingJan 27, 2017 By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer
Local reps defeat proposed amendments
The bill to incorporate American Indian education into public school standards in the state passed through the Wyoming House on second reading Friday.
The proposal puts particular emphasis on the history and impact of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes.
Lawmakers debated the legislation in Committee of the Whole on Thursday, when one representative attempted to make changes to the bill that were opposed by Fremont County's delegates to the Wyoming Legislature.
The amendments did not pass.
Rep. Tom Walters, R-Casper, introduced the amendments, one of which would have removed language that indicated the public school standards would be developed "in cooperation with" the two tribes of the Wind River Indian Reservation.
Walters said the language was redundant, as the same paragraph later talks about putting emphasis on the history of the local tribes. He noted that, in the past, more tribes than the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho "roamed this great land" that was later named Wyoming.
"I'd like to have the education based on all the tribes," Walters said. "It just happens we ended up with (these) two."
Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, rephrased Walters's comment.
"We didn't end up with two tribes," he said. "They ended up with us."
Larsen didn't officially object to the amendment, but Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, did.
"I think 'in cooperation with' is a vital component to this bill," Brown said. "I think it's crucially important we're in consultation with (the tribes)."
Who will approve?
Walters's other amendment took issue with a phrase that was later revised on second reading. The language indicates the Wyoming Department of Education would revise the public school standards to incorporate American Indian education "subject to the approval" of the state's two tribes.
"I don't think it's good precedent to say we'll subject the content we're teaching to (the approval of) an individual group like this," Walters said. "(What) if the department comes up with good, quality information then the tribes and those folks decide they don't like it or ... one tribe likes it and one doesn't?"
Rep. Jim Allen, R-Lander, who is the primary sponsor of House Bill 76, urged the House to "resist" the amendment.
"There is absolutely no way the state is going to move forward and tell the story of the tribes," Allen said. "They have to tell their own story."
He was immediately contradicted by Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, who rose in support of Walters's amendment.
"We don't want to bind the hands of our Department of Education," Lindholm said. "What happens if a situation arises where those tribes aren't able to approve in enough time? ... We don't do this in any other area. (Let's) let the Department of Education do their job."
Larsen pointed out that both tribes would approve only the portion of the standards related to their own individual histories.
He also offered some history to illustrate the reasoning behind the language in question. Initially, he said, Wyoming's Select Committee on Tribal Relations asked the WDE to start developing social studies standards that incorporate historical information about the state's two tribes. When the department later presented a report on its progress, Larsen said tribal leaders objected to the fact that they hadn't been involved in the discussion.
"We had to lick our wounds a bit and say, 'Sorry, if this is your history, we probably ought to have (your input),'" Larsen recalled. "I think there's some legitimate rationale to allow them to approve their history in saying it's correct."
During his 33 years teaching history and government, Rep. John Freeman, D-Green River, said he used to tell his students: "Usually the winners write the history."
"If we're going to teach Native American history, we should allow them to write their history," he said, adding, "That doesn't mean you're limited to that. You can bring something else up."
HB76 allows for school districts to decide what methodology or instructional material should be used to teach American Indian history.
On Friday a new amendment was approved that deletes the phrase requiring the updated standards be "subject to the approval of" the tribes, replacing the language with the words "in consultation with."
"This is a friendly amendment," Allen said. "It makes (the bill) better."
Several representatives spoke in opposition to HB76 on Thursday, objecting to the fact that it mandates a change to social studies standards. Rep. Michael K. Madden, R-Buffalo, noted that many Wyoming school districts already teach American Indian history.
"The only thing this bill does at the end of the day is change an option to a requirement," he said.
Allen explained that the legislation would also provide materials that would make it easier for school districts to incorporate the lessons. The districts can choose whether to use the provided materials, he said, or they can "make up their own."
Rep. Dave Miller, R-Riverton, pointed out that educational modules the Wyoming Public Broadcasting Service recently produced specifically about the Shoshone and Arapaho tribes could be used as material to generate lesson plans for HB76.
The Wyoming Legislature appropriated $110,000 in 2015 to fund the PBS project, which features a combination of videos and lesson plans for educators.
"The coursework for this has already been funded," Miller said. "It was funded by you, or your predecessors, right here in the House, (so) it's not going to take any money whatsoever to implement this. It's just teachers across the state can have a little Indian culture inserted into their classroom."
When she taught history and geography for seven years, Rep. Sue Wilson, R-Cheyenne, said she incorporated American Indian education on her own.
"That was a lot of fun, but it was also a fair amount of work," she said. "I think (HB76) provides a great resource for the teachers."
She also addressed Madden's concern about mandating that American Indian history be taught, at the same time criticizing Wyoming's social studies standards, which she called "vague."
"I don't think we need to worry at all that this will place a burden on anyone, because frankly the standards don't place a burden on anyone," Wilson said.
Regardless, Rep. Danny Eyre, R-Lyman, still protested. He said he approves of American Indian education, but local school districts should be able to decide what lessons to teach their students.
Larsen reiterated that the local districts would be able to control the details of the American Indian curriculum they offer. He also countered Eyre's comments by hyperbolically suggesting the state remove all of its teaching standards.
"Perhaps we should go back and say we don't have requirements to teach English, math and reading - let that be a local decision," Larsen said. "I get the local thing, but we know we have to have some state standards."
Earlier this week, the tribes confirmed their willingness to financially support the bill if it is held up due to funding concerns.
"We see this as an important piece to get the information out on the history of two tribes," Shoshone Business Council chairman Clint Wagon said Thursday. "We don't want the funding factor to kill the bill."
Both tribes agreed to split the cost if necessary. Allen said the Wyoming Department of Education estimated a cost of about $24,000 to implement the bill. The cost includes expenses required to form a committee to review the standards.
SBC member Leslie Shakespeare, who formerly served as tribal liaison to the governor's office, said the bill was a great starting point to establish American Indian education in state policy.
"I have real vested interest in this," he said.
Northern Arapaho Business Council chairman Roy Brown echoed Wagon's comments.
"We're willing to stand behind it and move it forward," Brown said.
-Staff writer Alejandra Silva contributed to this report.