State, tribes partnering on development of Native American curriculum for public schools
Hartford ― On the last day of Native American Heritage Month, Gov. Ned Lamont, state Department of Education officials and tribal leaders announced Wednesday they’re collaborating on the development of a model curriculum for Native American studies that will be taught in Connecticut public schools, starting during the 2023-24 academic year.
The model curriculum will tell the stories of the state’s five recognized tribes ― the Mashantucket Pequots, Mohegans and Eastern Pequots, all of southeastern Connecticut, as well as the Schaghticokes of Kent and the Golden Hill Paugussetts of Colchester and Trumbull ― “ensuring our students have a strong understanding of the contributions” Native Americans have made, Irene Parisi, the education department’s chief academic officer, said.
Connecticut is one of the first states in the nation to develop a Native American curriculum, Parisi said.
State Sen. Cathy Osten, the Sprague Democrat whose district includes the Mashantucket and Mohegan reservations, championed the cause, authoring a 2021 bill that called for the teaching of Native American history in Connecticut’s schools. Lamont signed the measure into law.
“Of all the different pieces of legislation passed in the General Assembly recently relative to tribal nations, this is the most important piece,” Osten said, speaking at a press conference in the lobby of the State Office Building. “It recognizes where we stand today and that we will no longer silence the voices of those who were here first.”
Citing a 2019 report by the National Congress of American Indians, Latoya Cluff, vice chairwoman of the Mashantuckets’ tribal council, said 87% of state history curriculum standards require no mention of Native American history after 1900, while 27 states make no mention of Native Americans in their K-12 curriculums.
Connecticut’s law calls for the introduction of Native American history and culture in social studies curriculums at all grade levels, K-12. The subject matter will span the historical spectrum, “past, present and future,” Parisi said.
Lamont acknowledged that the required teaching of Native American history has been a long time coming.
“I’m someone who loves history,” he said. “I always appreciated the phrase, ‘We all came to America on different ships ― but we’re all in the same boat.’ l love the spirit of what that means. ... You’re not going to understand what it is to be an American until you understand our history. And history didn’t start with the Pilgrims at Plymouth in 1621.”
Lamont was asked how he felt about the controversial John Mason statue on the State Capitol’s exterior, a likeness that memorializes a historical figure that many Native Americans and others believe should not be glorified. Mason commanded English forces during the Pequot War, nearly wiping out the Pequots in the 1637 “Massacre at Mystic.”
“I needed Native American curriculum when I was studying history,” Lamont said. “I don’t know as much as I should about the Treaty of Hartford, John Mason. … It’s incredibly offensive to at least one of our tribes, and we ought to take a hard look at it.”
Last year, a state commission that considered whether the Mason statue should be moved failed to issue what would have been a nonbinding recommendation. Osten, a member of the commission, voted to relocate the statue.
Michael Thomas, a former Mashantucket Pequot chairman, said he hoped that an accurate teaching of Native American history would cast the Treaty of Hartford, an agreement that sought to abolish the Pequots in the wake of the Pequot War, as “what it really was … a documented case of state-sanctioned genocide.”
Beth Regan, vice chairwoman of the Mohegans elders’ council, described her tribe’s decades-long commitment to education and its development of a Native American curriculum.
More than 20 years ago, she said, she became frustrated at the lack of indigenous, native voices while teaching American history and social studies at Tolland High School. With the help of her tribe and the school’s administration, she began to develop a Native American curriculum.
“But it wasn’t enough,” Regan said. “We believed all students can learn about our roots through the voices of our people ― not through the colonizer’s voice but through the voices that have been left out.”
The Mohegans recently launched the Educators Project, an interactive Native American curriculum that the tribe has made available to state officials and school districts throughout the state. The state education department plans to release its Native American curriculum in June 2023, making it available on GoOpenCT, a digital library of education resources.