Tribal Curriculum Coming to Oregon School Districts

Full Implementation Expected for January

This coming year, the history, culture, and curriculum of Oregon’s Indigenous and Native tribes are finding a seat in Oregon’s classrooms. With the 2017 passage of Senate Bill 13, the Oregon Department of Education has been tasked with creating curriculum that encompasses Native American culture, ways of thinking, and life over time.

The Department of Education has worked with Oregon’s nine federally recognized tribes, as per required in the 2017 bill, and has allocated resources to each of them to ensure the achievement of “accurate place-based, tribally-specific curriculum,” according to the ODE.

To create a comprehensive curriculum, the Oregon Department of Education has also partnered with Shadiin Garcia, a consultant with Education Northwest. The Department of Education currently has 45 Native/Indigenous peoples lessons available to schools, ranging between the five major subjects: Math, Social Studies, Science, English/Language Arts, and PE/Health.

Two of the bill’s requirements state that the curriculum must be “related to the Native American experience in Oregon,” and “historically accurate, culturally relevant, community-based, contemporary and developmentally appropriate;” found in section 2(b) and 2(c) of the law, respectively.

“[This program] actually enhances and corrects and addresses the misconceptions and the current erasures in curriculum across five subject areas,” Garcia told Oregon Public Broadcasting.

While the state has created some mandatory general curriculum for the program, it left room for the nine tribes to pass localized curriculum in their communities and school districts. Tribal advocates, like Cow Creek tribal member Renae Guenther, are working to highlight local Native cultural events and introduce local curriculum to the South Umpqua School District.

“It’s important for our kids and our youth to know that there’s more to the tribe than just the casino and to fill that [with an] accurate representation,” Guenther told OPB.

The law has an intended implementation lag, so as to ensure that Oregon’s school teachers have the necessary tools and resources to create and maintain solid, comprehensive, and accurate lesson plans. The Department of Education was most recently working on Development Opportunities over the summer, and will be implementing tribal courses in every Oregon school district by early January of 2020. The Corvallis School District did not respond to requests for comment.

The law is a big step in a new direction, and for many in Oregon’s tribal communities, it is a step long awaited.

Ryan Tuthill