Corvallis School Board Recognizes Native American Heritage Month

During the Corvallis School Board’s Oct. 21 virtual meeting, Co-Vice Chair Luhui Whitebear presented Resolution Number 21-1003, “Acknowledgement of Native American Heritage Month”, which passed unanimously. The decision marks the Corvallis School District’s commitment to celebrating Native American Heritage Month for November 2021 and every November in perpetuity. 

The resolution was carefully written to include and affirm the identities of various Indigenous communities, stating, “the Corvallis School District recognizes and pays tribute to the significant contributions made in our community by Native American people which includes American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians as well as Indigenous people from Canada, Mexico, Central America, South America, and the broader Pacific Islands…”  

Board members Shauna Tominey and Tina Baker co-sponsored the resolution, as they had done for the LGBTQI2S+ History Month resolution that was passed last week.  

“I’m really excited that, as a Board, we continue to engage in this work to recognize our students and our staff and our families that are being highlighted in these resolutions, and affirming that commitment to continuing to be in it with them and support them,” said Whitebear. “Shauna and Tina and I spent a lot of time on this one… We wanted to make sure that people understood some of the history behind [Native American Heritage Month] and the importance of it not only nationally, but locally.” 

At the local level, this includes recognizing that “Kalapuya people have called the Corvallis area and Willamette Valley home since time immemorial” and that “the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon and the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians continue to maintain their ancestral and cultural connections to the Corvallis area and broader Willamette Valley…”   

At the state level, this partially includes reckoning with Oregon’s “documented history of anti-Indigenous actions based on colonization which includes genocide, forced removals, deprivation, broken treaties, and the outlaw of Native American cultural practices…” The other piece entails understanding the role of education in Oregon school districts as either being used to advance anti-racism and equity commitments, or being weaponized to further oppress and erase Indigenous peoples and cultures.  

The resolution notes that, historically, “education has been misused as a tool of colonization in Oregon serving to sever Native American children from their families, languages, and cultural heritages through boarding/residential schools beginning with the Indian Training School at Forest Grove which later moved and became Chemawa Indian School in Salem.”  

“As somebody that’s also part of the local Indigenous community with Indigenous children in the [Corvallis School] District, I understand — and I’ve talked about this before in Board meetings — how hard it is to be represented in public education as Indigenous people even to this day,” said Whitebear. “I hope that this is one step we can take as a Board to help with some of that.”  

One of the goals of the resolution is to help create a platform to educate students about Native American peoples, as well as promote the District’s continued learning about their many contributions.  

“My hope for this resolution is that the sentiment of it finds its way into our curriculum [and] into our classrooms,” said Board member Terese Jones. “The important message of this resolution and the important truths it represents and the story it tells is something that parents [should] be confident our children will be learning from K-12… I hope that teachers will hear this as an invitation to advance this even further.”  

By Emilie Ratcliff