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Native American History In The Classroom

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A growing number of states are encouraging schools to weave American Indian history and culture into their curriculum, Associated Press reports. Washington is one of the few states that currently requires it. Denny Hurtado, director of the Washington State Office of Indian Education, says his state's new curriculum goes “beyond Pocahantas and General George A. Custer” and aims at restoring native pride. The emphasis is on creating coursework that is "culturally relevant and appeals to Indian students". According to Associated Press, about 2.6 percent of Washington's students identify themselves as American Indian or Pacific Islander.

Jamie Valadez (Klallam) has been piloting the new Washington curriculum in her history classroom for several years. Her students have grown to appreciate both local history and Indian stories and can relate better to some of the news of today that pertains to area tribes, Valdez says.

Washington is not the first state to create a Native American curriculum.

Similar resources have been created by other states, including Montana, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and South Dakota. The efforts are made to recognize Native American history as an important element of state and local history, and to offer teachers make their American history classes relevant to local communities.

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Mike Jetty, a member of the Spirit Lake Dakota Nation, runs the Montana Indian education program. He says he has traveled across the West and received phone calls from as far away as the United Nations asking to copy or borrow the program's ideas.

"We're taking a long-range approach," Jetty says. "We know it took a long time for the curriculum to get this way and it's going to take a long way to change it."