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A Turning Point: Changing the way Native American history is taught in schools

A district in Oklahoma is flipping the script on the way history is taught.

OKLAHOMA CITY — This time of year, children come home with artwork depicting Native Americans in headdresses sharing food with Pilgrims. But there is so much more to that day and how our indigenous people helped settlers survive. 

"We were just as Native people and native history and native culture, really small snippets of our history are in textbooks or are in teaching," says Dr. Star Yellowfish, the Director of Native American Student Services in Oklahoma City.

As an educator, Dr. Yellowfish noticed the history of her ancestors was glossed over in the classroom. Students were taught only a paragraph about natives in Oklahoma, when she says Oklahoma could be an entire state of natives in and of itself. The information presented was also stereotyped in an archaic way.

"I say archaic because it's 2021," she said. "I say archaic because you have lessons that were being taught to our parents and grandparents still being taught to kindergartners and third graders and it was, you know, paper feathers and brown paper sacks and let's dress you up like an Indian and a Pilgrim, when they weren't even really Indians or Pilgrims, they were the English and the Wampanoag."

So she, along with other educators in the Native American student services department came up with a suggested new lesson plan -- one that focused on what actually happened historically. The pamphlet they drew up contains facts, like how Tisquantum, a member of the Wampanoag Tribe, became fluent in English, became an interpreter and taught the English to grow corn. And then there's the Treaty of Friendship signed by the Wampanoag Chief, giving the English 12,000 acres of land to occupy. 

The first Thanksgiving meal 400 years ago? There wasn't any turkey. The Wampanoag men contributed five deer. They had a three-day feast and engaged in diplomacy. There were 90 Native men sharing that food with 50 English men.

For regions like ours that have deep Native American veins, like the Cuyahoga River, running through them, these women hope that teachers here use our land to teach about our past.

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