Bill would improve public education about the histories and cultures of Native Americans

WASHINGTON [3.24.22] – U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) announced that she has introduced significant legislation to improve public education and understanding about Native peoples and their histories.

Accurate, thorough education about Native peoples benefits all students, Native and non-Native alike. Unfortunately, the education most students receive regarding Native histories and cultures is woefully inadequate. For example, nearly half of Americans say that what they were taught in schools about Native Americans was inaccurate and in most K-12 classrooms, students are not taught about Native peoples at all post-1900. Furthermore, teachers rate “history of Native American peoples” and “pre-Columbian American history and culture” as two of the worst subjects in terms of coverage and accuracy. These glaring educational deficiencies allow negative stereotypes and misconceptions to take hold and persist.

This legislation is endorsed by: National Congress of American Indians, National Indian Education Association, National Indian Child Welfare Association, American Indian Higher Education Consortium, Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute, American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Association of Elementary School Principals

“It is unacceptable that so many Americans are under and misinformed about Native peoples and their history,” said Senator Smith. “Teachers and Native groups around the country have been sounding the alarm and pushing for action on this issue for years, and it’s time we listened. This legislation would help develop accurate and thorough curriculum for our schools so that harmful misconceptions and stereotypes do not persist.”

“For far too long, students in the United States have been taught an incomplete and inaccurate education about the experience of Native American peoples,” said Diana Cournoyer, Executive Director of the National Indian Education Association (NIEA). “It is the federal government’s treaty-based trust responsibility to own the relocation, termination, and other discriminatory and genocidal policies, including the Indian Boarding School era which were designed to strip American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian children of their indigenous identities, language, and culture. This bill is the first step in the government’s duty to improve the representation of Native American peoples, their histories, and their contributions, as well as the unique relationship between Native Nations and the Federal Government. We look forward to working with Senator Smith’s office to bring this bill into law.”

Deficiencies in our education system are a top driver of false narratives about Native peoples. Senator Smith’s legislation, the Native Histories and Cultures Education Act, would help states improve primary and secondary education about Native histories and cultures in North America by:

  • Directing the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) to produce and make publicly available teaching materials related to Native peoples of the United States prior to European contact and up until the present date. These educational materials would be developed in direct consultation with Tribes, Tribal organizations and other Native and education stakeholders.
  • Creating a voluntary grant program administered by NMAI for State Educational Agencies and Tribes to jointly apply for funding to expand upon existing educational materials, develop locally and regionally specific additional materials and implement the curricula in their state. 

This legislation is inspired by an initiative in Minnesota, led by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, which aims to improve how the state’s schools teach Indigenous history.

You can find more information about this legislation here