Native Knowledge 360֯ and Teaching for Change Teach-In

On Saturday, November 4, 2023, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) and Teaching for Change hosted an online teach-in highlighting Indigenous peoples’ histories with a focus on education sovereignty. More than 220 teachers from across the United States and Canada attended the keynote by Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, Bryan Newland (Chippewa), and participated in two rounds of interactive workshops featuring classroom resources from NMAI’s online education portal Native Knowledge 360° and the Zinn Education Project.

Workshop presenters, ASL interpreters, and NMAI and Teaching for Change staff.

Here are some of the participant reflections on the teach-in, followed by descriptions of the sessions.

All sessions were very informative and insightful! I was especially impacted by the dialogue between presenters and the honest contributions of those participants who directly represent First Nations’ perspectives.

When I come away from a learning opportunity hungry for more, I feel like another door has been opened. The keynote and both workshops have my mind spinning on how I can incorporate these conversations into future possibilities.

This was wonderful. I only wish it could be longer so I could learn and hear more from all those passionate and knowledgeable people around me.

The information and resources provided are highly valuable for every educator regardless of grade level. Thank you for everyone’s thoughtful preparation in today’s conference. 

I always leave this teach-in with so much food for thought and concrete instructional resources, too. The scheduling is so good —  morning for West Coast and early afternoon for East. I enjoy learning with colleagues from around the country from the comfort of my home.

Read below to learn more about each session and see videos from selected workshops. Resources from each session are here.

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Keynote Speaker

BRYAN NEWLAND
Bryan Newland. Photo by Matailong Du/NMAI

In his keynote address, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Bryan Newland described education sovereignty, noting the inherent right of Indigenous tribes to define and reach their own educational goals for their students. Newland explained how the forced assimilation of Indigenous American children allowed the U.S. government to steal land from Indigenous people in the mainland, as well as Alaska and Hawaii. He highlighted the connection between boarding school research conducted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the efforts to support language and cultural revitalization in Indian Country today.  

View Keynote

Attendees noted key takeaways from Newland’s talk:

The keynote session addressed very important issues that every U.S. citizen needs to be aware of. The speaker was gracious and kind in how he delivered horrific information that is critical to the healing of Native peoples and the country. I would like to know where to find a video of his presentation for use with the college students that I teach.

The very deliberate wrongs committed by U.S. political and religious institutions, sometimes in financial collaboration with each other. I was comforted to know that the work of our keynote speaker and Deb Holland is in collaboration with the U.S. government and focused on acknowledging these wrongs and efforts toward reconciliation and healing.

The power and importance of acknowledging the benefits to “modern” white people of the genocide and cultural erasure of indigenous people. 

I learned just how many boarding schools there have been and that the work is ongoing to determine what happened at those places. I will make more effort to keep up with the presenter regarding his research.

I was quite familiar with this subject, but what stuck with me is how important context is for talking about Native American boarding schools. They were part of an overall strategy of genocide.

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Workshops

 

THE PEOPLE VS. COLUMBUS, ET AL.

High school teacher Michael Palermo engaged teachers in the popular lesson, The People vs. Columbus, et al., by Bill Bigelow of Rethinking Schools. The lesson, in the form of a trial, asks students to determine who is responsible for the death of millions of Taínos on the island of Hispaniola in the late 15th century. Palermo shared insights from his use of this lesson for almost 30 years, as well as recent updates to the lesson.

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Attendees noted key takeaways:

The opportunity to try out the activity so that I could see how students might feel taking on different roles. It was very helpful in anticipating student reactions if I decide to adapt this or a lesson like it in my classroom.

I loved the lesson plan they shared where the Taino people had a case against Columbus, the Spanish Monarchs, and the System of Empire. I believe I will be using this lesson in the near future. 

The first workshop gave voice to the Taino people, and it simulated them being able to defend themselves and gave them a voice. I think that’s important to do for Indigenous people is to give them a voice. 

Those participants who directly represented First Nations had a number of suggestions of how this particular lesson could better represent the unique perspectives of different First Nations. I appreciate their honesty in sharing their own personal and their nations’ suggestions concerning terminology, scenarios, material, etc. included in the lesson.  This is very valuable for participants who plan to use the lesson as well as for the creators who may want to revise the lesson based on their input.

PIPELINE PROTESTS: PUTTING CLIMATE CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE INTO THE CURRICULUM

Suzanna Kassouf, high school social studies teacher, facilitated this workshop built around the documentary film Necessity: Oil, Water, and Climate Resistance. Necessity details the story of multiple climate activists, including Indigenous leaders in the climate justice movement, valve turners who use civil disobedience to stop the flow of oil, and legal teams that use the “necessity defense” in the courts. Participants deepened their understanding of this intricate story through role-play exercises where they took on the perspectives of real-life subjects from the film. 

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Attendees noted key takeaways:

While there were many resources, including a two-part documentary, shared in this workshop, the opportunity to engage in a lesson with other educators and hear their real-time reactions, especially surrounding such poignant storytelling, was really wonderful.

The importance of centering Indigenous voices. If you only read legacy media, pipeline protests appear violent and unorganized and dangerous. This is not remotely the case, and videos and testimonies from the resistance itself is powerful and sheds new light on the power dynamics at play.

How connected the climate change crisis is to Indigenous peoples’ rights.

How wide the impact of these pipelines is and the actions that are being taken against them in a visual perspective. We can read news articles, etc but unless you are there experiencing it or seeing it from the perspective of others who are living it, you cannot know.

Rethinking Thanksgiving: A New Thanksgiving Story for a 21st Century America


Alexis Bunten and Anthony Perry presented their book Keepunumuk: Weeâchumun’s Thanksgiving Story, a picture book that retells the Thanksgiving story in a way that honors the Native peoples who made it possible. Participants entered the workshop and shared their challenges in teaching about Thanksgiving. Through reading excerpts of their book, the authors explored the origins of the Thanksgiving story many Americans take for granted, and what really happened when a group of European settlers made their home on the site of a Wampanoag village. They also reviewed free curriculum resources that encourage students to rethink Thanksgiving through the Native perspective.

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Attendees noted key takeaways:

Excellent workshop!  The facilitators presented their book along with curriculum materials to be used in classrooms. The book and materials are from a Native lens which makes them all the more wonderful, appropriate, and useful! Loved it very much!

Wonderful resources with practical applications/lessons for students of all grade levels.

The book and resources were great. I’m from Wampanoag lands and feel grateful that there are decolonized approaches to Thanksgiving being made available to teachers/people.

TEACHING INDIGENOUS CENTRAL AMERICA

Jonathan Peraza Campos, middle school teacher and Teach Central America program specialist with Teaching for Change, facilitated this interactive session to provide teachers with strategies and resources for introducing the Indigenous history of Central America in their classroom. Participants explored the Quiche Maya ancestral story, including the Popol Vuh and the Maya origin story, which highlights the importance of corn and nature to the Maya. They also learned about the Garifuna and other Indigenous communities throughout Central America and made connections to the challenges they face today.

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Attendees noted key takeaways:

The Indigenous People of Central America have similar issues that the U.S. has. Territories are being taken over and the natural resources are dying for financial gains.

It reminded me of the importance of centering indigenous voices and connecting to the heritage of my students.

Questions to ask to spur great conversation and thinking about Native people. Centering student experience. Connecting teaching practice to current struggles and events across the globe.

TEACHING TREATIES: FORT WAYNE AND THE COMING OF THE WAR OF 1812

Tiferet Ani, high school social studies educator and curriculum developer, led participants in a lesson that demonstrates how to use historical and contemporary sources to explore the meaning and legacy of treaties. The session included an analysis of the 1809 Fort Wayne Treaty and a look at a piece of treaty-themed artwork by renowned multi-media artist Shan Goshorn. The artwork presented referred to the deliberate way the US government entered into agreements, often with no intention of keeping pacts made with native leaders. Participants then analyzed treaty text and reviewed how teachers can emphasize their critical importance in preserving tribal sovereignty and advancing cultural identities. Participants left the workshop with a classroom-ready lesson that demonstrates how Indigenous histories are an integral part of contextualizing global events such as the War of 1812.

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Attendees noted key takeaways:

I learned that building a context and rationale for teaching treaties as a part of US History is essential.

Treaties are more complicated than what’s on the paper. Context is important.

Excellent resources and transferability to the classroom.

Using Children’s Books to Teach the Troubled Legacy of Indigenous Boarding Schools

Debbie Reese (Nambé Owingeh), educator and founder of American Indians in Children’s Literature, provided educators with authentic, Native-focused classroom lessons, resources, and children’s literature they can adapt to their curriculum. She situated Indigenous boarding schools within a historical context and provided a framework to optimize their teaching about Native peoples and the impact of this tragic legacy on Indigenous communities today. Reese discouraged educators from using books about Native people who are not from Indigenous communities themselves, as these books often place First Nations people on a mystical “separate and past tense frozen pedestal.” She highlighted the importance of using books written by First Nations people. In this way, today’s teachers can become partners with Native communities as they exercise their sovereign governmental powers to rebuild and revitalize Indigenous education.

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Attendees noted key takeaways:

I gained resources that I can bring back to the building and district I work with to incorporate into our 7th grade PNW History curriculum. 

Very helpful in sharing so many resources as well as a framework for thinking about teaching boarding schools.

What to look for as far as authentic, reliable resources to use with students in regards to literature and even a worksheet to help evaluate texts to make sure they are good.

As always I gained some valuable resources for teaching my students. I use a lot of children’s books in my teaching, because my students seem to truly listen and absorb when they’re being presented with a quality book. It is my job to share truths about our history using my power and voice and I want to do that with the best possible books.

The Trouble with History

Yadira Hadlett introduced attendees to the NMAI Native Knowledge 360 resources and the two objectives aligned with the Essential Understandings guide concepts: 1. Encourage critical thinking and reflection on historical events. 2. Apply multiple perspectives to tell a more complete narrative about Native people. Participants viewed the animated short video, The Trouble with History, that shows how even accepted histories reflect the perspective of the person narrating them. Yadira then presented the story of the Lenape “sale” of Manhattan in the 1600s and examined the supposed transaction from the perspective of both Dutch and Lenape traders. In breakout groups, attendees reflected on their own experiences learning about mischaracterized or misrepresented historical events and how they would tell a more accurate history to expand their teaching in the classroom.

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Attendees noted key takeaways:

To teach history properly, you need to dive deeper and question people and look at multiple perspectives.

The video that was viewed was informative. The session resonated with the fact that Indigenous people are still here.  

The video and the small and large group discussions around it were excellent!  The video and the thoughtful discussion prompts that the presenter provided definitely set the stage for great discussion and insights!


Keynote

Reclaiming Education Sovereignty

We are pleased to welcome Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Bryan Newland. Mr. Newland’s presentation will highlight the connection between boarding school research conducted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the efforts to support language and cultural revitalization in Indian Country today. He will also explore the concept of Indigenous peoples’ education sovereignty. What does education sovereignty look like in a modern context and how can teachers become allies with students in the classroom by imparting lessons, inspiration, and empowerment?

Bryan Newland is an enrolled member of the Bay Mills Indian Community, a federally recognized Ojibwe (Chippewa) tribe in Michigan, and the fourteenth assistant secretary for Indian Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on August 7, 2021, and  a ceremonial swearing in by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland was held on September 8, 2021. The assistant secretary for Indian Affairs assists the secretary of the Interior in fulfilling the department’s trust responsibilities to American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and individuals.

READ MORE ABOUT BRYAN NEWLAND.

Mr. Newland joined the Department of the Interior in February 2021 as senior advisor to the secretary. He then went on to serve as the principal deputy assistant secretary for Indian Affairs. From 2009 to 2012, he served as counselor and senior policy advisor to assistant secretary for Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk. He was acknowledged by Echo Hawk as being pivotal in working on the Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Homeownership (HEARTH) Act, a major piece of legislation that advances tribal self-determination and sovereignty over tribal lands.

Mr. Newland was raised on the Bay Mills Indian Community reservation and graduated from Brimley High School in 1999. He matriculated at Michigan State University, where he went on to become the first graduate of MSU’s College of Law’s Indian Law Program in 2007. After several years working at one of Michigan’s largest law firms, he joined the Obama Administration in 2009. In 2011, he was among that year’s recipients of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development’s “Native American 40 Under 40” award. Mr. Newland spent four years as chief judge of the Bay Mills Indian Community’s tribal court and also served as president of the Bay Mills Indian Community.

In addition to spending time with his family, he enjoys hiking and kayaking along the shores of Lake Superior and is a nature photography enthusiast.


Workshops

The People vs. Columbus, et al.
A trial role play asks students to determine who is responsible for the death of millions of Taínos on the island of Hispaniola in the late fifteenth century. In this session, participants will engage in this role-play activity from the popular Rethinking Schools lesson by co-director of the Zinn Education Project Bill Bigelow. The lesson has recently been updated to include contributions from Taíno community members. There will be time for attendees to talk about adaptations for their classrooms and a discussion of strategies for introducing students to the campaign to Abolish Columbus Day. Facilitated by Michael Palermo, high school social studies teacher. Recommended for middle to high school teachers.

Presenter’s Bio:

Michael Palermo is a graduate of American University and is a Social Studies teacher at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia, where he is Department Chair. He is certified in English as a Second Language and currently teaches World History and Government to English Learners, most of whom are recent immigrants. He also teaches an elective course called Leadership Skills and Diversity Training, where students are trained to facilitate interactive workshops for their peers that promote tolerance and mutual respect. This is his 27th year teaching and he has been smiling since day one!

Pipeline Protests: Putting Climate Civil Disobedience Into the Curriculum
This workshop is built around the documentary film Necessity: Oil, Water, and Climate Resistance. The film details the story of multiple climate activists, including Indigenous leaders in the climate justice movement, valve turners who use civil disobedience to stop the flow of oil, and legal teams that use the “necessity defense” in the courts. Participants will deepen their understanding of this intricate story through role-play exercises where they take on the perspectives of real-life subjects from the film. Attendees will gain a stronger foundation for teaching about climate change and the environmental crisis. Facilitated by Suzanna Kassouf, high school teacher and Rethinking Schools contributor. Recommended for middle to high school teachers.

Rethinking Thanksgiving: A New Thanksgiving Story for a 21st Century America
This session will explore the origins of the Thanksgiving story many Americans take for granted, and what really happened when a group of European settlers made their home on the site of a Wampanoag village. Presenters will discuss the need to rethink Thanksgiving and outline freely available curriculum resources for teachers. There will also be a reading of Keepunumuk: Weeâchumun’s Thanksgiving Story, a picture book that retells the Thanksgiving story in a way that honors the Native peoples who made it possible. Facilitated by Anthony Perry and Alexis Bunten. Recommended for upper elementary to high school teachers. 

Presenters’ Bio:

Anthony Perry (Chickasaw) grew up in Oklahoma and now lives in England with his wife and two young children. He is the author of two children’s books. The most recent is Keepunumuk: Weeâchumun’s Thanksgiving Story, a retelling of the Thanksgiving story that centers the Wampanoag people. The book is co-authored by Danielle Greendeer and Alexis Bunten. Perry’s first children’s book, Chula the Fox, brings 18th-century Chickasaw history to life and is being adapted into a film. In addition to his work as a writer, Perry is an analyst for the National Health Service in England. He also volunteers with hospitals in Pakistan to improve health service outcomes. Perry has an undergraduate degree in comparative religion from Dartmouth College, a master’s degree in public health from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and a master’s degree in public policy from Birkbeck College, University of London. He loves history, traveling, and spending time with his family.

Alexis Bunten (Unangan/Yup’ik) is an Alaska Native writer, media-maker, consultant and educator. Her first book, So, how long have you been Native? Life as an Alaska Native Tour Guide, published in 2015, won the Alaska Library Association Award for its originality and depth. Her writing has appeared in First American Art Magazine, Cultural Survival Quarterly, NMAI Magazine, and in many academic journals. Her first children’s book, Keepunumuk: Weeâchumun’s Thanksgiving Story, co-authored with Danielle Greendeer and Anthony Perry, was published by Charlesbridge Press in 2022. Alexis has won awards for her work from the National Science Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation, among many others. She has also been featured in Forbes, the Washington Post, and the Seattle Times. Alexis lives in Monterey, California, with her husband, daughter, three dogs, a cat, and a lizard. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, studying DNA, and creating cultural tours. Alexis received a BA in art history from Dartmouth College and a PhD in cultural anthropology at UCLA.

Teaching Indigenous Central America
Many students in U.S. classrooms can trace their roots to Central American countries, yet the history of the region is largely absent from the curriculum. There is even less regional-specific content focused on Central America’s rich and centuries-old Indigenous cultures, such as the Mayans. This interactive session will provide teachers with strategies and resources from Native Knowledge 360⁰ for introducing the Indigenous history of Central America in their classroom. Participants will explore the Popol Vuh, the Maya origin story, which highlights the importance of corn and nature to the Maya and other Indigenous communities. They will also learn about the Garifuna, an Afro-Caribbean culture in Central America. This workshop will help teachers share with their students a deeper understanding of Indigenous communities throughout the Americas and the challenges they face today. Facilitated by Jonathan Peraza Campos, middle school teacher and Teach Central America program specialist. Recommended for elementary to high school teachers.

Presenter’s Bio:

Jonathan Peraza Campos (he/him/el) received his undergraduate degree in 2018 from Emory University. He completed his MS in Social Foundations of Education at Georgia State University in 2021, and he is currently pursuing a second master’s degree in history and Latinx/Latin American Studies. Jonathan studies and organizes around the links between racism, imperialism, immigration, militarism, incarceration, policing, and education, especially in the American South and Central America/ns. His work is centered around educational, academic, and activist projects particularly surrounding Latinx and migrant youth and communities in metro-Atlanta. He is an educational consultant and an abolitionist educator and organizer. Much of his work has focused on teaching Latinx and immigrant youth about their histories, writers, thinkers, and movements through a Latinx Studies and ethnic studies lens. He is also invested in building the next generation of agitators and movement leaders as a political educator.

Teaching Treaties: Fort Wayne and the Coming of the War of 1812
Participants will engage in a lesson that demonstrates how to use historical and contemporary sources to explore the meaning and legacy of treaties. The session will include an analysis of the 1809 Fort Wayne Treaty and a look at a piece of treaty-themed artwork by renowned multi-media artist Shan Goshorn. By exploring these sources with students in the classroom, teachers will be able to emphasize the critical importance of treaties in preserving tribal sovereignty and advancing cultural identities. Participants will walk away with a classroom-ready lesson that demonstrates how Indigenous histories are an integral part of contextualizing global events such as the War of 1812. Facilitated by Tiferet Ani, high-school teacher and curriculum writer.  Recommended for middle to high school teachers.

Presenter’s Bio:

Tiferet Ani is a social studies educator who has taught middle and high school students in Montgomery County, Maryland, and worked as a curriculum developer and teacher educator for the district. Tiferet has revised U.S. history curriculum to counter the dominant narrative and elevate Indigenous, Black, Latine, LGBTQ+, and women’s histories throughout. The Southern Poverty Law Center and CBS News have reported on this work. Tiferet has also developed an LGBTQ+ Studies elective with high school students. Read more about the work of her students here. She served as a co-facilitator of the DC Area Educators for Social Justice Secondary Curriculum Group for the 2021–22 school year. She is currently residing on unceded Lenni-Lenape land as she pursues a doctoral degree at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. 

Using Children’s Books to Teach the Troubled Legacy of Indigenous Boarding Schools
There is a growing awareness of the deeply troubled legacy of Indigenous boarding schools in the United States. Educators seeking to include these histories in their curriculum need authentic, Native-focused classroom lessons, resources, and children’s literature. In this way, today’s teachers can become partners with Native communities as they exercise their sovereign governmental powers to rebuild and revitalize Indigenous education. This workshop will situate Indigenous boarding schools within a historical context and help teachers develop the knowledge they need to optimize their teaching about Native peoples and the impact of this tragic legacy on Indigenous communities today.  The session includes small group discussions during which participants can practice assessing sample text using NMAI’s rubric for evaluating children’s books. Facilitated by Debbie Reese, educator and founder of American Indians in Children’s Literature, enrolled Nambé Owingeh. Recommended for elementary to high school teachers.

Presenter’s Bio:

Debbie Reese is tribally enrolled at Nambé Pueblo in northern New Mexico. Reese has taught in elementary and university classrooms and is the founder of American Indians in Children’s Literature, an organization that offers critical analysis of Indigenous people in children’s literature. Her research focuses on depictions of Native peoples in children’s books, and her books and articles are used in English, education, and library science courses in the U.S. and Canada. She launched American Indians in Children’s Literature in 2006. In 2016, she was invited to deliver the Simon Ortiz and Labriola Center lecture on Indigenous Land, Culture, and Community. In 2019, she was selected to deliver the American Library Association’s May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture. Reese earned a PhD in education from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and her MLIS from San Jose State University.

The Trouble with History
Teachers will view an animated short video, The Trouble with History, that shows how even accepted histories reflect the perspective of the person narrating them. Changing the narrator of a particular story allows us to see it in a different light. Using the story of the Lenape “sale” of Manhattan in the 1600s, the video presents the knowns and unknowns of the supposed transaction from the perspective of both Dutch and Lenape traders. The video explores the fundamental question “What’s the most important thing for everyone to know about Native people in your region?” and emphasizes the continued existence and vibrancy of Native people and nations. Engage with other teachers on how to apply these broad concepts more specifically to one’s own region and possible activities and discussion questions that can be used with your students to ask probing questions about history and sources. Facilitated by NMAI staff. Recommended for upper elementary to high school teachers.

Presenter’s Bio:

Yadira Hadlett is a new member of the NMAI-NY team and works as an education specialist and workshop coordinator. In this role, she helps develop and implement Native Knowledge 360° teacher workshops and programs. Prior to joining NMAI, she was the co-founder and co-director of a creative science and tech non-profit where she designed and taught Indigenous-centered STEM programs. She enjoys birding and inventing gadgets with her family. She holds an MEd in education policy from the University of Pittsburgh.