Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Night 27° Partly Cloudy
News >  Spokane

Bills would require teaching history of local tribes

Kelly Kearsley Associated Press

OLYMPIA – Going to school in Eastern Washington, Martina Whelshula said the history of her own American Indian tribe – the Arrow Lakes Nation on the Colville Reservation – was only mentioned once.

A pair of bills making their way through the Legislature would change that, requiring that local tribal history be taught in state schools.

The Senate committee on early learning, K-12 and higher education heard testimony on the issue Monday. The House Education Committee was expected to vote on the House bill today.

“To be able to bring that into the state’s learning environment would be one step in creating a more whole society, and for the first time take a real big step in allowing native children to feel whole,” Whelshula, who’s now an instructor at Gonzaga University, said in a phone interview.

Students graduating from Washington high schools have taken at least a half-credit of state history and government. Those courses are encouraged to provide information about American Indians.

The proposed laws would require school districts to teach the culture, history and government of federally recognized American Indian tribes in grades where state history or government is taught.

The bills provide that districts with tribal reservations within their boundaries or within a 100-mile radius must teach information about those tribes. Washington state has 29 federally recognized tribes and another seven that are not federally recognized.

Rep. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, is sponsoring the House bill.

The cost of implementing the instruction shouldn’t hinder the bill, he testified Monday before the Senate committee. Districts already have to regularly update their offerings, and this could be part of that process.

The schools and tribes would collaborate to create the curriculum, he added.

The money is the only thing that worried Lucinda Young, the lobbyist for the Washington Education Association, which represents public school employees.

“As critical as this is, I’d hate to see a school district identify that they couldn’t fund this,” Young said.

Supporters at the hearing said teaching tribal history is as important to native students as their nonnative peers.

RoseMary Kelly, 15, said her parents were being taught the history of her Nooksack Indian Tribe all the time by other relatives. But she feel like she’s losing her culture.

“I’d feel a lot better going to school learning about myself rather than somebody else’s history,” she told the committee.

Teaching tribal history can also help dispel stereotypes and correct historical misunderstandings, like that of Chief Leschi, supporters of the bill said.

A historical court hearing last year exonerated the Nisqually Tribe leader in the death of a white militia soldier. Chief Leschi was hanged for murder in 1858.

The “Historical Court of Justice,” led by state Supreme Court Justice Gerry Alexander, determined that Leschi should never have been charged with the crime of murder because he acted as a lawful combatant during a time of war.

Jeniva Klement, 14, from Nisqually Middle School in Lacey, testified that she has several American Indian friends. She is not American Indian.

“It’s important for others to learn about Native American history,” she said. “My friends know a lot about my history, and I don’t know much about theirs.”

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.