SACRAMENTO, Calif. ? The second time proved to be the charm for proponents of a bill that promised to make major changes to the way American Indians are taught in California's public school system.
Gov. Gray Davis signed the bill known as SB41 Oct.14, though he vetoed a similar bill last year. Basically the bill does not spell out any specific curriculum changes but it provides money to the state librarian to award competitive grants aimed at developing a more rounded education on California Indian tribes.
'By signing SB 41 into law, Gov. Gray Davis has set into motion steps that will provide California's children with a more accurate portrayal of Indian history and our place as contemporary governments and people,' said Steven F. TeSam, chairman of the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, who helped spearhead the effort.
Under terms of the bill, competing curriculums, most likely designed by education scholars and tribal members, will be submitted to the Curriculum Development and Supplemental Materials Commission. The commission will hold public hearings and do other reviews to hopefully get the new curriculum in place by the fall of 2003.
'I am delighted we are getting going in what I hope will be time for the next textbook adoption so these materials will be included when next we actually provide new textbooks to the children of the state of California,' said State Sen. Dede Alpert, D-San Diego, who wrote SB 41.
Davis vetoed last year's version of the bill because he said he feared it would circumvent normal channels of educational curriculum. Alpert's changes to the current version ensured it would have the proper state oversight.
Another less discussed aspect of the bill is that it will develop, in conjunction with the University of California, an information resource base within the state library in Sacramento called California's American Indian Nations Information Project.
This project, which requires consent of the University of California regents, seeks to provide information ranging through articles, photographs and sound recordings in a consolidated section documenting California's federally recognized tribes from pre-European contact to the present.
Though no one is quite sure of the specific changes to the educational curriculum, the bill's proponents say the changes will be 'massive.'
In addition to history classes, the bill seeks to have further reaching effects to present California Indians as a contemporary ethnic group with the state, with a special status and history.
Among potential changes are additional information in high school government classes as to functions of today's tribal governments and how tribal sovereignty functions within the larger governmental framework of the state.
Leroy Miranda, director of the Cupa Cultural Center and a Pala tribal member, has been a proponent of this bill from the beginning. He has complained that history for American Indians in California's present textbooks stops sometime in the late 19th century.
Miranda says many current problems tribes face in California have their inception in school curriculum which provides only bare-basics historical information on tribes told from a Euro-American perspective.
Additionally, Miranda says much of the historical perspective on tribes deals largely with out of state American Indians in generalized accounts.
'We had one-tenth the population of all Indians here in California and within that we had a very diverse group of people. The kids, meanwhile, are learning about tribes from other area of the country like the Great Plains,' Miranda said.
Viejas Vice Chairman Bobby Barrett has a more inclusive view of the bill's potential implications. He said that while it is important that California Indians learn about their heritage, he hopes that other states will follow suit.
'My hope is that this has implications for other tribal nations across the country and other states will adopt a curriculum that will also teach school children about the tribes in their states,' Barrett said.
The bill was co-sponsored by Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, who urged Davis to sign last year's bill. Deborah Pacyna, a spokeswoman for Bustamante, says the lieutenant governor is 'delighted' that Davis signed the bill.
Pacyna also said Bustamante made the case that tribal governments serve a role similar to other governments in that they provide jobs and other public services for their respective jurisdictions. Bustamante has been widely regarded as a tribal advocate in state government and felt sufficiently moved to sponsor Alpert's bill in the California state Legislature.
'It's surprising that tribal sovereignty and legitimacy within the state structure is never discussed in the schools. The lieutenant governor felt it was a situation that needed to be changed,' Pacyna said.