American Indians are undervalued because of miseducation

by BRYNN TOLMAN

  • Meet Nola Lodge and Forrest S. Cuch (slideshow best viewed in full-screen mode)

Many American Indians today say their culture and history have been lost. They are now fighting to restore truth to the curriculum.

For years, elementary school students have been taught that Columbus discovered a new land, America — a land of promise, a land of riches, a land of hope. But many American Indians do not find that promise, those riches or that hope. Instead, they reflect on the stories of their childhood education and cringe with feelings of hopelessness, confusion and displacement.

“The truth isn’t out there, you have to dig for it. … American Indians were always portrayed as in the way,” says Nola Lodge, professor of multicultural education at the University of Utah and a member of the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin.

And marginalization for some creates privileges for others.

An article by Ruth Anne Olson titled, “White Privilege in Schools,” explains how today’s culture provides specific privileges to certain students. Olson lists many of these privileges, including, “My children take for granted that the color of any crayons, bandages, or other supplies in their classroom labeled ‘flesh’ will be similar to their own.” After listing several more of these privileges she writes, “My family never asked for these privileges; principals and teachers didn’t purposely create them for us; and, frankly neither they nor we have been consciously aware these privileges exist.” If the privileged students didn’t ask for the privileges, and the principals and teachers didn’t create them on purpose, and if no one has been consciously aware of the privileges, then why do they exist?

Lodge teaches classes on diversity so she is very aware of issues of privilege related to skin tone. She firmly believes that when children are taught early what difference is, their perceptions of who is valued changes. In addition, prejudice and stereotypes carry on into adulthood. She still experiences them today as a successful woman.

Lodge is helping to prepare many American Indian students begin their careers in education. It is not only important to get the truth about history out there, but to also get a variety of people teaching that history to help students understand difference at a young age, she says. When white students go to school they understand they can succeed. They see people just like themselves succeeding. The teachers know how to teach white students, they can relate. What about the other students? Children from different backgrounds learn differently and when they relate personally to their teacher, they succeed at a must faster rate.

“It should be K-12 students who should … accept that there is diversity. Difference is not change. This is why we need to change the curriculum,” Lodge says. She continues to tell a story from the Civil War, a subject commonly covered in history classes. When students learn about General Ulysses S. Grant they seldom learn that Ely Parker, his adjunct, his right-hand man, was a chief’s son and like Grant, an alumnus of West Point. They were equals in education. Their histories were equally important because they were both fighting for their country, for their land and for their beliefs. These small yet significant details are the ones left out of history books. These details are the ones that could give American Indian students, those fighting for recognition and truth, someone to emulate as they strive for success.

Forrest S. Cuch, executive director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs, is very concerned about the education of children. Cuch, a member of the Ute Tribe, wants them to understand the truth about American Indians, but knows they often hear very little about Indians in school. In a recent interview he quoted Thomas Jefferson as saying, “Our democracy hinges upon an educated public.” Cuch explained that children are the future of the country. They are tomorrow’s leaders and when part of the history of their own country is omitted from history books, lessons and much needed education is left behind as well. He believes this knowledge is part of the identity of each student and without it some are getting lost.

“Without an education there is no identity, no foundation. If I am ashamed of my history or my people, if I am not part of my own culture, I am lost. If I am part of nothing then I lose that identity,” Cuch says. He believes that this identity is being taken away from all students today.

Lodge has also thought about her own identity and how the knowledge of the truth plays a part in it. She takes a different stand, however, saying, “[The truth] informs you about that identity. It doesn’t give you an identity.” Lodge understands that life and one’s own culture build who you are, and the knowledge acquired along the way adds to it.

The most important thing Lodge has learned through teaching multicultural education and American Indian education “is how much still needs to be done.” She knows there are ways to improve what is being taught in schools; she knows that with effort, the truth will get out there.

American Indians have a past that teaches all who are willing to learn. They hold the stories and the truths that history books have omitted. Cuch says his “original culture is hanging on, barely. But it is covered with layers and layers of scars.” Like Lodge, he knows that when the truth of American Indians is in the school curricula in Utah, those scars will fade and the culture that is slipping away will return and become stronger. “I am not hopeless,” Cuch says.

Gallery creates a space for diversity

by STEPHANIE FERRER-CARTER

John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States of America, stated, “If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.”

During this year’s Pride at the U, artists of all sexual preferences found a venue for their visions.

“Art is a big part of queer culture,” said Bonnie Owens, 21, a senior at the University of Utah and an intern at the LGBT Resource Center on campus. “It’s a big part of any culture, so I thought it was important that it was included.”

The theme of the 2007 Pride Week held Oct. 15-20 was “Culture with a Q.” Owens was inspired by the theme, and chose to revamp the idea of an art gallery as part of Pride Week.

“In the past it’s never been successful, but I really wanted it to run well this year,” Owens said.

The art show was originally titled “Beautifully Obscene,” but was renamed “The Good Stuff” after some concern over what would be displayed in the gallery located in the U’s student lounge.

“The best thing about the gallery is that it crosses so many different boundaries,” Owens said. “We’ve got staff, faculty, alumni, community members and students all in here.”

Though it was labeled a LGBTQ art gallery, Owens said anyone could submit their art. Artists did not have to describe the subject matter, just the dimensions of their work.

“Something like this is so odd,” Owens said. “It’s so queer to have a gallery designed for queer students and faculty. So it’s very, very liberating for an artist that’s having a hard time finding their niche. It’s a good place to be.”

A variety of art was displayed in the gallery, including photography, drawings, oil, water color, mixed media and pottery.

While some works were more subdued, the gallery did feature a series of nudes painted by a former alumna who lives in Santa Quin County. Owens said the woman found out about the gallery through a culture article in the Salt Lake Tribune and was eager to show her work, not only because the county did not have a gallery that would display the nudes, but also because two of the woman’s children are gay.

The gallery became a canvas of emotion and statement for some.

Orbin Rockford, 27, submitted five pieces from a series of 25 Sharpie and acrylic paint drawings to the gallery. The dark images portrayed, both in color and tone, stood out starkly from their clean, white backgrounds.

The inspiration came from an emotional break-up that happened while Rockford was in college at a Boston art school.

“I was in a relationship that was totally messed up,” Rockford said. “It was my first real relationship with a guy.”

Drawing, Rockford said, is a form of therapy, what he calls “instinct art.”

“It’s a great outlet,” he said. “It’s been about coming to terms with myself.” 

But Rockford said he does not want his artwork to be defined only by his sexuality.

“It’s very much a part of my work, some pieces more than others,” he said.

Aside from putting the show together, Owens also submitted her own series of black and white photographs. Each one featured student leaders and activists from the U’s LGBTQ groups.

“They [Owens’ photographs] were designed to be shown, so they’re a little more apparent,” she said. “They’re something that you can look at them and say, why is this queer, what is going on here.”

The pieces were on display for the week, and the gallery full of artwork was proof of a goal accomplished, according to Owens.

“Pretty much everyone from different identities and cultures submitted something, which is something the resource center has had a hard time with in the past,” Owens said. “A lot of events this year cater to people who are often forgotten in programming like this, so people of color, transgender individuals, women, straight allies especially. So it’s great to see some of their work in this.”

Empowerment through education

by AARON K. SCHWENDIMAN

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools rose 26 percent between 1985 and 2007. As enrollment in public schools and adult education programs increases in the United States, the quality of what is taught to children and adults becomes more important.

Jennifer Isleib, a University of Utah student majoring in education, said education is the key to the future.

“Without the education of the past and present, humanity would be lost,” said Isleib, who works as a teacher’s aid at Dilworth Elementary. “Knowing our past is how we are going to make changes in the future, especially with young children because they are our future voice.”

One of the most important subjects in school is history. One aspect of history that is very important is learning about American Indians, said David Keyes, a social studies specialist in the Salt Lake City School District.

He believes that teaching children about American Indians is important because their story is everyone’s story.

“We need to know about the many tribes and nations that were here before the encounter with Europeans,” Keyes said in an e-mail interview. “We also need to know what happened to these peoples as a result of the encounter and how these tribes and nations continue to be part of our story today.”

In many schools today, history curricula mention cultures very quickly and then move on, Keyes said. American Indians are only mentioned briefly in many of the lessons taught in school, and many of the textbooks in Utah schools today devote only a chapter or two specifically to American Indians before and at the time of the European encounter, Keyes said.

According to the Utah State Office of Education Social Studies Core curriculum handout, the first lesson about American Indians is not until the 4th grade. This is a brief mention of the American Indian settlement on the East Coast during the encounter with the Europeans and some details about American Indians settling in Utah.

As it is very important to educate children in public schools, it is also very important to educate adults about issues that have been taught incorrectly in the past. Forrest Cuch, director of the Division of Indian Affairs, has made it a goal to inform kids and adults about history.

Cuch is a member of the Ute Indian Tribe and was born and raised on the Uintah and Ouray Ute Indian Reservation in northeastern Utah. When Cuch attended elementary school he was taught that American Indians didn’t make any contribution to civilization.

In 1994, Cuch became the social studies department head at Wasatch Academy in Mt. Pleasant, Utah. During this time Cuch developed a multi-cultural program and taught a full load of classes.

Cuch has also developed an “empowerment training” program for members of Indian tribes. This 10-month program taught as many as 30 people at a time about the history of their culture, spiritual, physical and mental health and taught participants how to live a better life for themselves and their children, Cuch said.

“We let them choose by showing a contrast of both worlds,” Cuch said. “After 10 months many of them were empowered to get off welfare and live a better life.”

Cuch hopes in the future these programs can be expanded to include all types of cultures because cultural diversity is what makes the world beautiful today.

Incorporating many cultures into curricula in public schools is important for children to learn about cultural diversity.

Teaching and educating children and young adults will help them understand the issues that American Indians deal with. Society still uses language, images and generalization that reinforce stereotypes associated with minorities, said Keyes, the social studies specialist.

“Over the past decade we have had an explosion of excellent materials for teachers to use,” Keyes said. “At a societal level we can continue to hope that our nation becomes more sensitive to American Indian issues.”

A Utahn’s search for culture, history and education

by RITA TOTTEN

“If you don’t have a command of history you are vulnerable,” said Forrest Cuch, who has been the executive director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs since 1997. As director he works to enhance intergovernmental relationships throughout Utah. His experiences at the Division, coupled with his history as an educator, have made him successful. As a graduate of Westminster College he went on to teach social studies and become the education director of the Ute Tribe.

Growing up, Cuch was faced with trauma of an intellectual nature. While at home his parents told him about his culture and his people but at school he was taught that Native Americans didn’t contribute to civilization. Unsure of whom to believe, he had mixed feelings about school.

The contradictory information he received as a child is what drove him to challenge what kids are learning. Cuch believes that there is a need for reform and change and teachers should be taught to change social norms. “Cultural diversity makes the wonderful life we have today,” he said.

“The best way to teach is out of the heart,” he said. He believes that to provide great education to children, parents need to entrust their education with the right people. Cuch said it is important to find people who love children. Employing individuals who will nourish and foster children is essential. In addition, he believes paying teachers a decent salary is vital and suggests looking for new and alternative ways to teach and hook kids.

The biggest accomplishment and what he is most proud of is the empowerment training he helped develop. He trained more than 90 individuals from tribes and urban areas. The training focused on four main sections. The first was reteaching history. Cuch emphasized the importance of not believing everything one is taught; reteaching and relearning is key. Secondly, community develop was highlighted.

Physical and mental health were the last two components of the training. Before white settlers came to the Americas, Native Americans had never been exposed to alcohol and sugar, Cuch said. These elements were treated like toxins to their bodies and contributed to the setbacks that many Native Americans have faced.

The University of Utah is currently reviewing the program and Cuch hopes to receive more funding to continue his work. So far, the training has been held three different times: in 2002, 2003 and again in 2005. The main message he hopes people will take from the training is that education really is the key for success in business, personal and health aspects.

Bly Miller, a Park City resident and former teacher, is a member of the Iroquois tribe. Miller remembers the lessons her mother and grandmother taught her about the importance of knowing her culture and history. “They were always telling me about the struggles of our people and how no matter what they kept going. Knowing your history is vital because we are our history, our ancestors,” she said.

Miller has worked closely with the Iroquois tribe, educating its young on everything from tradition to basic life skills. She feels that her purpose in life is to teach and pass on what she has learned from her family. “If I can offer my knowledge to these children than I have done my part as a citizen of the world,” Miller said.

Cuch’s passion for education comes from the hardships he faced in school. While in high school he was exposed to the pain that came with the “white” version of history. Once he was in college he began to explore and learn the truth about his people and started his work with Native Americans. The result of this educational journey is the humanity he spreads through his work as a Ute and citizen. “History is not in the past,” he said, “it is now.”