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Teaching Teachers the Truth About Native History in New England

The summer institute on Native Americans of New England has caused some educators to rethink their curriculum in Native history and social studies.
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After a three-week Institute on Native Americans Peter Gunn, who teaches Native American history at Williston Northampton School in Easthampton, Massachusetts told he’s “shredding his syllabus.”

The program, called Native Americans of New England: A Historical Overview, was put on by the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute under the auspices of Five Colleges, Incorporated.

A group of 25 educators attended the seminar in July. It focused on the period of Native history before European contact to the 19th century as well as on current issues. A number of field trips to museums, projects and guest speakers rounded out the program.

Joe Smith/Mohegan Tribal Communication

National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Scholars visited the Mohegan Community and Government Center in Uncasville, Connecticut on July 18, 2013.

The seminar was held at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, where Alice Nash is a history professor. She says this seminar is an important way to teach educators about New England Native Americans because the only time they are mentioned in history books is as part of the Thanksgiving story.

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“Even Native American communities in other parts of the country don’t realize there are Native American communities in New England,” Nash said in a press release. “They are still here and they are still vital.”

Jessie Little Doe Baird, the Mashpee Wampanoag founder of the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project, did a workshop in which she told attendees “to question everything read in textbooks and lesson plans” reported

Mike Netkovick teaches history at Minnechaug Regional High School in Wilbraham, Massachusetts and said that since attending the workshops there is a lot of material missing from the curriculum that he hopes to put into his lessons.

“I feel I have a better way of understanding,” said Rachel Baker, who teaches social studies and psychology at Turner Falls High School.

Nash said the soonest the seminar would be run again would be in 2015.

Five Colleges/flickr

Neal Salisbury, co-director of the NEH Institute, talks to participants outside Memorial Hall Museum.