Native American History is Erased from School Curricula

One thing that many of us might not be aware of is that November is Native American History Month.

Another thing many of us may not be aware of is that Native American history is often barely present, absent, or extremely misleading in school curricula.

For example, the College Board’s curriculum for Advanced Placement (AP) United States History mentioned Native Americans only once in a post-1890 context: as a subdivision of a key concept which says students should learn about how “Latino, American Indian, and Asian American movements continued to demand social and economic equality and a redress of past injustices” (quote found on page 87 of this link). To which I think, “Umm…excuse me…what do you think happened with Native Americans between 1890 and the civil rights era?” I’m not sure if I’d get answers even if I asked the College Board.

My home state of New York is somewhat better about including Native Americans in its history curriculum. For example, New York includes Native American movements on the list of civil rights movements that need to be covered. Regarding the era of World War II, the curriculum says: “Students will examine the contributions of women, African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Mexican workers, and Mexican Americans to the war effort, as well as the discrimination that they experienced in the military and workforce” (pages 40 and 41 of this link). The curriculum also makes room for key legislation on Native Americans, such as the Dawes Act, and forced assimilation efforts, such as the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. However, unless the quality of textbooks has changed since my younger brother went through United States History in New York two years ago, much of the information on these topics is misleading at best, and promoting falsehoods at worst.

And some of that misleading information is expressed when California talks about Native Americans and civil rights. At one point, the post-World War II chapter in their curriculum says: “American Indians also became more aware of the inequality of their treatment in many states where Indian tribes are located. American Indian veterans, returning from World War II were no longer willing to be denied the right to vote by the states, which controlled the voting sites or to be told their children could not attend state public schools” (in this link; search for my quote to find the link most easily). Say what? They just said that there was little awareness among Native Americans about their lack of rights before the 1940s? That comment left me puzzled, to say the least.

I can give more examples of how states poorly handle Native American issues beyond the 1870s or so, but I think that these three examples give enough of a picture. The bottom line is that Native Americans are often either erased or are depicted with misleading information in many portions of school curricula. That fact is shameful.

It is often said that “those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Many high school curricula don’t even teach the history of Native Americans beyond the 1870s (let alone teach it properly), so if we are to avoid repeating mistakes, we must start to educate ourselves. I have much to educate myself on, and many of us have much to educate ourselves on, but we must educate ourselves so that we don’t repeat the mistakes and injustices committed against Native Americans in the past.

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