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Tribal-culture classes near reservations prove popular
Students in White Swan, Yakima County, are taking advantage of a new tribal-sovereignty curriculum, which covers the history, culture and governments of tribes.
WHITE SWAN, Yakima County — A picture of Chief Little Crow was plastered across the first page of a PowerPoint presentation that 13-year-old Brandon Spencer was assembling at White Swan High recently.
"He's part of a Sioux tribe and I'm part of a Sioux tribe," the eighth-grader and Yakama tribal member said about the chief who led the Mdewakanton Dakota Sioux in the mid-1800s.
Sitting next to Spencer was Darnell Williams. He was working on a presentation about Chief Sitting Bull of the Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux.
"He was a good chief," Williams said. "He was tough."
Both Spencer and Darnell are taking a recently implemented tribal sovereignty class in the Mt. Adams School District.
"I like this class because I can learn more about my culture, my tribe and other tribes," Spencer said.
Adopted by the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the tribal-sovereignty curriculum, which covers the history, culture and governments of tribes, is available to school districts across the state. It can be used in elementary, middle and high schools, and to satisfy social-studies credit requirements. Education plans in the curriculum can be modified to fit each district and corresponding tribe.
The curriculum is open to all students and is not designed only to teach members of the state's 29 federally recognized tribes.
The online curriculum is the result of a bill signed into law by Gov. Chris Gregoire in 2005 that encourages school districts on or near Indian reservations to incorporate tribal studies.
For the past seven years, tribes across the state have been working with educators in their districts to develop the curriculum, which can be found at indian-ed.org.
Also covered in the curriculum are the treaties Northwestern tribes signed with the U.S. government, and how their traditional hunting, fishing and food-gathering rights in their original territories were reserved.
The curriculum also has drawn the interest of Heritage University in Toppenish, Yakima County, which plans to use it in its indigenous-studies program next year, said Winona Wynn, head of the university English and humanities department.
At White Swan High School, the class has generated excitement among students who otherwise lost interest in school, said language-arts teacher Peggy Sanchey, who teaches the tribal-sovereignty class. She said some students are spending two hours after school working on tribal-sovereignty projects, and parents who never graduated are asking about the class.
Their inquiries have school officials discussing whether to begin a GED program attached to a tribal-sovereignty class for adults, she said.
Sanchey believes student scores in White Swan will improve with the new curriculum because it offers Native American students a sense of pride about their heritage, something formal public-school settings once strived to strip away.