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Changes in store for California schools

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The California State Senate unanimously passed SB 1439 by a vote of 29-0. The bill has now passed to the California State Assembly's Education Committee.

SB 1439 is attempting to change the way information about Native Americans and tribal entities is taught in California's public schools' K-12 curriculum. It will primarily focus on history and civics courses. Many tribal leaders say the current curriculum largely ignores modern Native Americans and distorts their histories.

The bill, sponsored by Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante and introduced by Sen. De De Alpert, D-San Diego, would appropriate nearly $100,000 from the General Fund to contract with as yet unnamed individuals in the appropriate academic field(s). The academics, Alpert says, would be chosen through a "competitive process."

Alpert says the academics selected would develop a curriculum that accurately portrays Native Americans and tribal governments as contemporary as opposed to historical entities. The curriculum would be submitted to the California Department of Education to be put to a consensus and disseminated to local districts.

"The entire process will take about a year to fully develop. It will be tied to the California Standards of Education," Alpert says.

Viejas Tribal Chairman Anthony Pico, whose conversations with state legislators started this bill, says the current curriculum has been devastating to contemporary Native Americans.

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"The whole idea for this bill started about 10 years ago when Congress began a concerted effort to strip tribes of their sovereignty. We decided to go to the root of the problem, which was the fact that our schools very rarely teach about California Indians. And nothing is taught about Indians and tribal governments at all after about the year 1900," says Pico, who also testified in front of the Senate Education committee in favor of this bill.

Pico says his primary concern is to help create an "enlightened citizenry" in regard to Native issues.

Asked what specific outcomes he expects, Pico says, "The true measurement of the effectiveness of this bill will be when an eighth-grade civics class includes lessons on tribal governments alongside the already existing curriculum on our nation's other branches of government."

"Chairperson Pico said that when he went to schools kids would ask him if Indians lived in tipis and if they still wore war paint," said Alpert. "Does this sound like we?re educating our kids properly?"

She says the new curriculum would be continuous to the present and "zero in on governance issues.

"Oftentimes teachers just didn't have the proper educational materials and this is the heart of this bill, to provide those for teachers."

Salvador Solorzano, spokesman for Lt. Gov. Bustamante issued this statement from that office: "Our students learn about a variety of institutions yet we don't learn about tribal institutions whose sovereignty is guaranteed in the United States constitution. It is important that the next generation of leaders has an appreciation of tribal sovereignty."