Assemblyman James Ramos is expected to introduce legislation in the coming days encouraging school districts to teach California Native American history.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — On the steps of the California State Capitol, California’s first and only Native American serving in the state legislature stood with colleagues to demand a change in the way history Native American is taught in school districts across the state.
“This is just the start of a long process, and we are not going to sit idly by and take no for an answer,” said Assemblyman James Ramos. “We will continue to push forward bills with strong support and strong allies until we change the curriculum to factual information.”
Ramos wasn’t the only one who was driven and aware of the need to change the way Native American history is taught in schools. Two members of the Latino Legislative Caucus — Assemblyman Robert Rivas and Assemblyman Cristina Garcia — also spoke, drawing on their personal experiences in the school system.
“I know I learned next to nothing about our tribal history or the present growing up in this state,” Rivas said. “And the result (of Native history not being taught in classrooms) is that bigotry, stereotyping, and above all, a lack of knowledge, color many Californians’ perception of our Native people today. . And the only cure for ignorance is education.”
“I was a teacher for 13 years, and I know firsthand that many students don’t realize our nation’s history. California has a vibrant and thriving Native American community that has been here since the beginning.” said Assemblyman Garcia. “It should come as no surprise that so many students are unaware of the rich culture and history of our Native American brothers and sisters. When the reality is that there is less training and resources in many states, including understood here in California, and many of our standards don’t mention how to teach Native American history.”
How Native American History is Taught in Sacramento
Currently, some Native American history is taught at the kindergarten level around Thanksgiving in the Sacramento Unified School District. But things don’t get better until around the fourth and fifth year. That’s according to Christina PC Narvaez, youth services specialist for the Sacramento City Unified School District.
“So that’s sort of where I think students would normally get a bit of history,” she said.
Narvaez works specifically in the district’s American Indian education department. She added that in 2016, the district began making ethnic studies a graduation requirement.
“So our district – which I think is very commendable and exciting – has been doing this work for some time now,” she said. “They work with a lot of local people…to get some of the history and accurate history of the native people specifically in California (taught).”
SCUSD has an American Indian education program. Through the program, students who are enrolled members of a Native American tribe or Alaska Native group, or whose parents are, are eligible for a number of services, including cultural events and programs .
Another ongoing program in the district — which is not open only to Native American students — is a project in which tribal educators under contract with the district visit the classroom.
At the request of the teacher, the tribal educator enters the classroom and educates the students on a number of different topics surrounding Native American history and culture.
“So it’s a pretty awesome project that we’ve been working on,” Narvaez said. “And the teachers have been very responsive.”
Here are similar Native American programs in the area by district:
In October 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law AB 101 requiring California high school students to take ethnic studies for graduation, beginning with the class of 2030.
“How many people in the state of California know that the militias that went out and killed Indians were actually paid for with taxpayers’ money?” said Assemblyman Ramos. “It’s something that needs to be in the history books as something that needs to be taught.”
Why this issue is important
Calvin Hedrick, Mountain Maidu and lead organizer of the California Native Vote Project, was on the steps of the state Capitol on Wednesday with Assemblyman Ramos and other lawmakers. He stressed the importance of teaching “correct history” in schools.
“So many of our students are really suffering from trauma from poor upbringing,” Hedrick said. “An education that wasn’t there or so many things left out.”
He pointed to how the missionary system is taught in schools and how history describes it as a “fruitful” time for Native Americans.
“But when we realized that all we had to do was look at what was written at that time from that perspective, and we see that it wasn’t the right time,” Hedrick said. “And it was a very brutal time for the natives.”
He went on to reflect on the fact that schools need to start teaching “real” history to students at an early age, while acknowledging that native people, not just in California, are still around.
“We’re only remembered as, you know, a logo on the side of a football helmet or a Disney character, when realistically we live just down the street. We live in all these communities (and) we thrive,” Hedrick said. “We’re not just, you know, a gambling establishment. We’re human beings who keep trying to perpetuate our culture.
Assemblyman Ramos is expected in the coming days to introduce legislation encouraging school districts to work with local tribes to begin teaching students about California Native Americans in their communities.
Ramos added that the inspiration for the upcoming bill stems from the momentum seen in Washington State with its “Since Time Immemorial” state program.
According to the Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction website:
In 2015, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 5433 amending the original 2005 legislation, now requiring that Since Time Immemorial: Tribal Sovereignty in Washington State or any other tribally developed curriculum be taught in all schools. Use of the program Since time immemorial has been approved by all 29 federally recognized tribes.
Through the program, children at all learning levels – from early childhood through high school – learn tribal history in conjunction with the existing school curriculum.
“I think a big driving force for our people, for our indigenous youth and for myself is to always remember that it’s not about us,” Ramos said. “Our voice that we carry here today is that of those ancestors, those upon whom these atrocities and genocide were inflicted, those voices are, now, being heard.”
Look: Young Native Americans in Sacramento talk about growing up as a native