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Standards on Indian ed ordered, but might take a year to develop

Aug 11, 2017 By Daniel Bendtsen, Staff Writer

It's likely to take the Wyoming Department of Education at least a year to redevelop its social studies standards to include new requirements for American Indian education.

Gov. Matt Mead signed into law the "Indian Education for All" act on March 10, requiring WDE to make resources available on the agency's website that will assist school districts in meeting social studies benchmarks relating to the study of American Indian tribes, especially the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho.

The original bill focused exclusively on the two tribes of the Wind River Indian Reservation until a Sheridan legislator asked for an amendment allowing for study of tribes bordering his county, like Montana's Crow Reservation.

The bill was ultimately amended to promote education on "tribes of the region, including the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho."

WDE is legally prohibited from dictating curriculum to the school districts across the state.

'Dead in the water'L

The law was passed after years of lobbying by people in Fremont County and bill proposals from local legislators.

Leslie Shakespeare, who served as Gov. Matt Mead's liaison to the Eastern Shoshone Tribe, said he thought the bill was "dead in the water" after it failed to get widespread support in the 2016 legislative session.

Shakespeare then helped draft a new bill after spending time researching similar legislation from Montana and South Dakota.

At that time, he didn't expect the development of Indian education in Wyoming to move as quickly as it has.

"(Those states) can legislate quickly. We can't. We have to teach to standards," he said this week. "To be honest, I thought this would be a five- to seven-year process."

That's a sentiment echoed by Jason Baldes, who is helping to develop new educational programs as part of his work as director of the Wind River Native Advocacy Center.

"I don't think any of us thought it would happen this fast," he said.

State Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, was the prime sponsor of the bill in the Senate and called the law "a long time coming" after he worked on similar legislation for years.

Case said the law should help rectify the way that Indian people have seemingly been minimized in the teaching of Wyoming history.

During At the Native American Education Conference this week in St. Stephen's, Case pointed to the most prominent artwork in Wyoming's state capitol as an example -- a mural depicting numerous scenes from the state's history that has almost no depiction of American Indians.

"There is nothing that says anything about Native American history or contribution to Wyoming history," he said.

"(The mural) is an indication of how Cheyenne views Wyoming culture and history."

Tom Rea, the editor of an online project by the Wyoming State Historical Society, said that too often, American history ignores all mention of American Indians after the end of the Indian Wars.

"It's as though a whole population just walked out of history," he said.

A understanding of modern circumstances, he said, like the reservation boundary dispute in Wyoming, are much better appreciated if students at taught about relevant history, like the tribes' treaties and the 1905 Congressional Act that opened up parts of the reservation to white settlers.

"And if you're reading about water rights, it helps to know there was a reservation where water rights were guaranteed even before Wyoming existed," he said.

Rea provided an update Wednesday during the Native American Education Conference in St. Stephens about the work being done to develop a curriculum about the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes in preparation for the new social studies standards.

The initial work to develop new resources, Rea said, will mostly focus on the Shoshone and Arapaho tribes.

To study other "tribes of the region," Rea said the state should hopefully be able to use resources from states like Montana and South Dakota, which have already enacted similar Indian education legislation.

Rea, who's been the editor for wyohistory.org since the website's creation in 2011, said he wants the resources his group develops to be in line with the lesson plans and videos the Wyoming Public Broadcasting Service already created, now available at windriveredu.org.

While WyomingPBS's resources seem more appropriate for grade-schoolers, Rea said his group will work to provide lesson plans for high school students.

Northern Arapaho Business Council chairman Roy Brown said more instruction about the tribes' more recent history would be beneficial for the self-image of young Indian students.

Brown said that when he a kid, he was bewildered and overjoyed when he once saw an American Indian competing on "Wheel of Fortune."

It was so rare for him to see that representation in a modern context.

"As native students, we don't often get to see representations of ourselves where we're not dressed in regalia and being hunted by cowboys," Brown said.

WyomingPBS general manager Terry Dugas, who has helped head the station's efforts to develop the video lesson plans Rea mentioned, said he hopes the initiative will pay social dividends.

For future generations, he hopes an emphasis on Indian education and current tribal people will lead to less xenophobia among white Wyomingites.

"For my kids and grandkids, I hope this bill means a little bit less fear, a little bit less anger and a little bit less hate," he said.

Baldes said he believes more education will also lead to better-informed political decision-making in Wyoming.

The Wyoming Legislature frequently passes legislation that impacts the reservation, but most of those legislators, Baldes said, have "no idea" what life on the reservation is like.

"They're basically making those decisions blindly," he said.

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