SACRAMENTO—Educators and tribal members shared practices that further the success of Native American students and gaps in resources that hinder adequate support for these pupils during a joint informational hearing on Wednesday. It was less than a week after a video went viral of a white high school teacher wearing a fake Indian headdress hopped around her classroom while teaching math concepts.
The Assembly Education Committee and Select Committee on Native American Affairs, which scheduled the hearing months earlier, took note of the teacher’s actions.
Assemblymember James C. Ramos (D-Highland), chair of the select committee and the first California Native American elected to the Legislature, said the teacher episode underscored the need for increased understanding of Native American history and culture. “These incidents reflect at best, ignorance and insensitivity. At their worst, they reflect bias and prejudice, perhaps even racism,” Ramos said.
Lawmakers heard from their Washington state counterparts who implemented landmark legislation, “Since Time Immemorial,” to ensure a broader teaching of Native American history and culture in that state’s schools. Former state Senator John McCoy, a Tulalip Tribe member and Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos, chair of the Washington House Education Committee, testified about the genesis of the law, its outcomes and challenges.
Indian education specialist and Lakota descendant Cindra Weber, said, “Having California Indian history in our curriculum is needed not only for our native students to feel seen, heard, and valued but for all students to benefit from learning about Native traditions and culture.” Weber, who works in the San Bernardino City Unified School District, said her program makes an effort to reach out to the local San Manuel Band Tribe over the teaching of Native history and partners with the tribe to organize field trips and workshops. The district also provides additional resources to teachers for instruction of California’s mission era and opportunities to inform students about sites with names originating from California Native American languages. She added that in the 2019-20 academic year, her district has a graduation rate of 95 percent, the highest in the state for Native students on or off a reservation.
Shasta County Superintendent of Schools Judy Flores and Redding Rancheria Tribal Chairman Jack Potter said they collaborate along with other local tribes to address absenteeism and to encourage accurate depiction of Native American history, cultural celebrations, and other issues.
The need for easily available resources was also emphasized by Assemblymeber Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach), education committee chair, and a former classroom teacher. “Teachers need curriculum, but you certainly need resources,” O’Donnell said. “As we go forward, it’s very important to think about what the classroom teacher is going to need.”
Assemblymember James Ramos proudly represents the 40th Assembly district which includes Highland, Loma Linda, Mentone, Rancho Cucamonga, Redlands, and San Bernardino. He is the first and only California Native American serving in the state’s legislature.