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American Indians focus of new Utah curriculum

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  • Rob Schmidt
    http://www.deseretnews.com/article/705333549/Indians-focus-of-new-curriculum .html American Indians focus of new Utah curriculum By Wendy Leonard Deseret News
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 2, 2009

      American Indians focus of new Utah curriculum

      By Wendy Leonard

      Deseret News
      Published: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2009 5:39 p.m. MDT

      Like all kids in Utah, American Indian children are required by law to
      attend school, but they are rarely taught about their own history, culture
      or customs. Recent legislation aimed to change that, by footing the bill for
      the development of curriculum that can be taught to any age group, but
      specifically to students in 4th and 7th-grade Utah Studies programs.

      "I think for too long the American Indian story has been considered only a
      19th Century story," said Elizabeth Player, an educator hired to work with
      the University of Utah's American West Center to develop 24 lesson plans,
      including glossaries, mini-histories, interactive maps of original
      territories and more for Utah teachers to incorporate more of the American
      Indian heritage into current teaching plans. "This shows that our Utah
      American Indians are here, they're vital, they're living their culture. To
      make sure that our students are seeing that in their classrooms is going to
      make a big difference."

      The new comprehensive study program for K-12 educators in all Utah schools
      delivers such tidbits as the fact that the Ute Indian tribe manages one of
      the largest herds of buffalo in the country, Paiute men historically grew
      beards when few Native Americans can, and the Navajo Nation has its own
      president, vice president and government apart from the United States

      "Lots of research went into this and if the schools use it, the new
      curriculum will change students' perspectives of Native Americans in Utah,"
      said Virgil Johnson, a Granger High School American History teacher and
      member of the Goshute tribe. "Not enough emphasis has been given to this."

      Several years ago, nationwide studies indicated that Utah fell behind other
      states in its efforts to educate American Indians and to teach about their
      heritage in public schools. The shortfalls resulted in a growing number of
      dropouts among the American Indian population, as well as increased lack of
      interest in schools among the demographic. Local leaders and lawmakers
      responded with the encouragement to develop new curriculum.

      "One of the needs of American Indian students is that they work together to
      figure things out," Player said. Her favorite lesson plan incorporates all
      five Utah tribes, focusing on the different skills they showcase such as
      Navajo weaving, Paiute basket making, Utah buckskin tanning, Goshute botany
      and Shoshone bead work. "It's engaging and provides the collaborative
      environment where they learn best," she said. "It's just a real fun lesson."

      Lesson plans are based on KUED's production of five documentaries about the
      prominent tribes in Utah, "We Shall Remain: A native history of America and
      Utah," as the two collaborated on the major curriculum project for Utah
      schools. DVDs of the episodes are contained in a binder with the 24 lesson
      plans and other instructional materials that were recently sent out to all
      parochial, private, public and charter schools in the state. Workshops are
      also being held in various districts through December, to introduce teachers
      to the materials. Educators who attend the workshops receive their own
      grade-specific teaching materials from the American West Center's project.

      "The history of Utah, and indeed of the United States, looks significantly
      different when viewed from the Indian perspective," said Matthew Basso,
      history and gender studies professor at the U. and director of the American
      West Center. "It is essential for students to learn about Utah's tribes'
      long struggles for survival and why those struggles occurred. It is just as
      essential for students to realize that while each of these tribes has had
      setbacks and tragedies, they have also had triumphs."

      The center was chosen to help with the project because it has archived 40
      years worth of collection, preservation, interpretation and distribution
      experience of the various remarkable histories of the West's diverse
      populations, particularly American Indians, Basso said. American West also
      has a history of collaboration with tribal communities in the area, which
      brought great promise to the project.

      "The We Shall Remain series fils a gap in the 7th-grade Utah Studies
      curriculum," said Pam Su'a, a social studies consultant for the Jordan
      School District. She said the new lessons are Utah-centered and makes good
      use of available resources, including an interactive Web site,

      e-mail: wleonard@...
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