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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


April 6, 2002 - Issue 58


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Group Studies Tribal Pupils

by Alex Murashko The Press-Enterprise
credits: Thomas Kelsey/The Press-Enterprise
Photo by Thomas Kelsey/The Press-Enterprise Ann Hollins will never teach the fourth-grade lesson on California missions and American Indians the same again.

The Temecula teacher recently read a book on the state's early history. The chapter on the state's Franciscan missions gives a different perspective from typical public school textbooks, Hollins said.

Instead of a benevolent group of missionaries bringing culture to the natives, the book describes the often-violent demise of Indians in the California region. It's a side of history that shocked Hollins, even though she had taken plenty of multicultural courses.

"I know that there is a very different story that Native Americans would tell about this period," Hollins said. "They were told to give up their culture . . . to give up their past and to embrace Christianity."

Now, a state task force that includes an Inland member aims to put more accurate history lessons into public schools and to serve California American Indian students better.
The California School Boards Association's 15-member committee, which includes Temecula school board President Barbara Tooker, met for the first time last summer.

The American Indian Student Issues Task Force has been studying ways to better identify tribes within school districts and to improve graduation rates. The task force found that, in 1999-2000, American Indian high school students in the state had a dropout rate of 14 percent, which is lower than those for Hispanic and black students but higher than the rates for other ethnic groups.

Members are studying state and federal laws and ways to increase funding for American Indian students. California's American Indian population is the nation's largest. Still, the ethnic group is small, 52,000 students among the state's total 6.1 million students.

Inland efforts

In the Inland area, which is home to many Indian tribes, schools already are doing what they can.

Fifth-grader Ashley Ibanez, an American Indian from the Pechanga reservation in Temecula, is happy to get special attention from teachers such as Hollins. The after-school tutoring, funded by a $50,000 federal grant, is given on Mondays at Helen Hunt Jackson Elementary School in Temecula.

"It's nice because if somebody needs help on homework, the teachers can help," said Ashley, 10. "It's good because they let us go on the Internet."

Hollins and teacher Vivian Murphy moved from child to child in the school library, helping the students as they grappled with reading, math and other subjects.

Parent Jeanne Tinsley, who lives and works on the Pechanga reservation, applauded the statewide effort, especially the emphasis on an accurate curriculum.

"I appreciate the fact that they are trying to focus on the truth," Tinsley said.

Program revised

Three years ago, officials in the Fontana school district were accused of using federal Indian Education grant money more for teaching cultural heritage than for helping students academically.

Members of a parent advisory group said the $50,000 could be used more efficiently. Classes on Indian sign language and stringing beads were not improving grades, the parents said.

Today, the district has a one-on-one tutoring program available for more than 100 of its American Indian students, spokesman Mike Bement said. Although the program now stresses academics, it's not being used by a lot of students, Bement said.


Jack Norton, School Boards Association's first American Indian at-large board member, said the task force expects to make recommendations to the association this spring. Norton, a 39-year-old Hoopa Valley Indian from Northern California, hopes the group will suggest policies that would help improve self-esteem among American Indian students.

Norton recalls intentionally answering "Indians" to a fifth-grade test question asking who had discovered America. Norton cried when it was marked wrong, causing him to miss receiving a teacher's reward by one question.

He also remembers reading textbooks that used the word "savages" to describe Indians in accounts of Christopher Columbus' voyage.

"It affected my self-esteem to a certain degree," Norton said. "I was being taught one thing at home, and I was being taught another thing at school . . . I got disgruntled."

Most textbooks now leave out the reference to savages, Norton said, but inaccuracies about American Indian history remain.

"Those sorts of issues continue to affect the self-esteem of young people today," Norton said. "People need to understand the history."

Communication between school districts and American Indian communities is an another area the task force is evaluating. Communication between parents and teachers also needs improvement, educators said.

Tooker said that although the number of American Indians in schools is small, the issues are significant.

"Returning pride in tribal heritage is a big issue right now," Tooker said. "School districts need to be at the forefront of returning that pride."

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Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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