WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) introduced significant legislation to improve public education and understanding about Native American 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.
“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.”
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 or Local 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 area.
This legislation is inspired by the Understand Native Minnesota initiative, led by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, which aims to improve how the state’s schools teach Indigenous history. The Native Histories and Cultures Education Act is endorsed by: National Congress of American Indians, National Indian Education Association, American Indian Higher Education Consortium, Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute, National Indian Impacted Schools Association, American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Association of Elementary School Principals, and Teach for America Native Alliance.