Local members of the Native American community are stressing that teachings about their culture should also focus on present and future practices, not just those of the past.
The panel discussion Tuesday at Missouri State University was the latest installment in the school’s Shattering the Silence series.
Dr. Sarah Nixon is a professor of Reading Foundations and Technology.
“It’s important for all of us to make sure that what we choose to teach in our classrooms is true and is authentic.”
The in-depth look into modern Native Americans, conducted by three professors and a historian, emphasized how Native Americans are still around today, and should be regarded with respect when taught in the classroom.
Dr. Kayla Lewis is an assistant professor in Reading Foundations and Technology, and is a part of the Chickasaw Nation. She says that “unfortunately, a lot of the stereotypes being built up are coming from our schools.”
According to Dr. Lewis, Native Americans are taught in schools as a thing of the past, while they are still very present in society today, even though their culture has been “watered down” due to integration in homogenous American culture.
“What we need to do is to build up the sense that Native Americans are alive and well, it’s not just a past tense. We need to talk about them in the past, the present, and the future.”
The concern is about schools that have Indians as a mascot, and give an inaccurate depiction of Native Americans that some find offensive. Ethan Pobst, and elementary education major present at the panel, says the event taught him how to approach teaching about Native Americans.
“I think that just having background knowledge that I gained from this talk, I’ll use that in the classroom. Even if the curriculum doesn’t teach it correctly, I’m still planning on teaching it in a way that isn’t offensive and that give respect to Native Americans.”
Other solutions suggested avoiding teaching about Native Americans around Thanksgiving to avoid stereotyping.
Tuesday’s talk in MSU’s Meyer Library started with a sampling of traditional Native American food, with history professors Dr. John Gram offering a brief background about the people from prior to European occupation through today. He talked about how Native Americans have had to “preserve, adapt, and create knowledge.”
Nixon shared places to visit to learn more about Native Americans, such as Cahokia Mounds in Illinois and Trail of Tears in southeastern Missouri.
Dr. Kayla Lewis spoke of the struggles of being a school teacher and trying to explain Native Americans as thing of the present. She shared with participants opportunities to culturally explore the Chickasaw nation.
“You can learn, you can ask those questions, you can get some of this history, you can get the culture and it’s not like you have to go all the way across the United States, just a couple hours away.”
Finally, Dr. Steve Willis, also a Native American, gave a brief insight to how cultural traditions are still being preserved today. Examples included Sun Dancing with the Lakota in South Dakota and his very initial experience in a Sweat Lodge where he first really identified as Native American.
“We went in, had no clue what I was doing, went in, sat down, closed the door, and John took a dipper of water and poured it over those elders, on the stones, and I knew instantly where I belonged.”
Many questions following the panel discussion centered around how to communicate with school districts who use Indians as a mascot, how best to teach about Native Americans in the classroom, and the best way to respect the culture and traditions of Native Americans in general.
The next edition of the Shattering the Silence series at MSU will cover ADA Compliance and Disabilities Studies on April 19th.