Opinion: Idaho schools need to incorporate more Indigenous Education into their curriculum

Photo by Taya Thornton | The Arbiter

Over the summer of 2022, Boise State University hosted their second annual Indigenous Voices: Building Understanding in Idaho Classrooms workshop. 

The workshop’s goal is to provide Idaho educators with awareness and knowledge on Indigenous groups, including Idaho tribes that can then be incorporated into their classrooms. As with most discriminatory beliefs, creating an understanding of Native culture is key to uprooting biases often developed at an early age.

“We are trying to bring in voices from the five tribes of Idaho to help teachers understand the significance of the history,” said Karla Morton, workshop instructor and fifth grade teacher at Andrus Elementary. “We are able to bring attention to ideas from people who were living here thousands of years before we were.”

The workshop was led by educators from Idaho and surrounding states, and featured at least one representative from each of the five tribes in Idaho. Tribes in Idaho include the Shoshone-Bannock, the Shoshone-Paiute, the Coeur d’Alene, the Kootenati and the Nez Perce. 

Gretchen Scultz, co-instructor and junior high teacher in Boise, explained that the project first got started after Schultz worked with high school students from Idaho tribes and realized “just how little [she] really knew about the Indigenous groups in the area.”

The Indigenous Voices workshop addresses an important issue: widespread misunderstanding and ignorance toward Native American and Indigenous culture. Despite Idaho having the 11th highest Indigenous population in the country, many Idahoans seem largely unaware of the rich Native history and culture in the state. 

“There’s a large variety of stereotypes and problematic conversations that happen about Native Americans,” said Toneekia Hernandez, a co-instructor for the workshop and high school English teacher on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation in Owyhee, Nevada. “Reservations existed before the whole state of Idaho, and those things aren’t necessarily talked about.”

Prejudice and ignorance toward Indigenous people lead to these groups being put at a disadvantage in nearly every area of life. 

Native Americans are almost three times as likely to be the victims of a violent attack than the national average, according to the National Congress of American Indians. 

[Photo of “The Hospitality of the Nez Perce” bronze statue by Doug Hyde.]
Photo by Taya Thornton | The Arbiter

Additionally, the rate of suicide for Indigenous people is higher than any other race/ethnicity in the country. Something needs to be done to protect the safety, wellbeing and culture of Indigenous tribes.

Native American tribes in Idaho deserve to consistently have input, representation and respect shown to them throughout the state, yet Indigenous voices are regularly ignored and shut down. 

An unfortunate example of ignorance toward Native culture occurred in 2020, when Idaho Rep. Chad Christensen proposed a resolution discouraging the removal of Indigenous “names, images and symbols” as mascots. The resolution was a response to many Idaho high schools coming under fire for disrespectful mascots and logos.

Many high schools across Idaho currently have, or had until recently, a mascot that contains Native language and imagery. Preston High School in Preston, Idaho, still has “Indians” as their mascot, with the school’s logo being an outlined Indigineous headdress. The exact same can be said for Shoshone High School

A high school in Driggs, Idaho spent years debating whether or not to change their mascot from “redskins,” which is a known derogatory term for Native Americans. Both the Shoshone-Bannock and Nez Perce tribes attempted to get the school to change this in 2013, but it took a student-led movement in 2019 for the mascot to officially be removed. 

The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes responded to the Idaho resolution in a press release, stating “the continued use of American Indians as mascots is not an honor, as this practice enforces the grossly inaccurate portrayal of us as ‘savages’ and uncivilized people.” 

Chistensen’s resolution was eventually shut down, but the entire situation shows that biases and ignorance regarding Indigenous people are still very present across the state. Idaho needs to do better.

“Just because Boise isn’t prominent in Native American ethnicity doesn’t mean they’re not there,” Hernandez said. “We still live here, we live on our own governments, and we contribute to society.”

A lack of awareness and understanding is a driving force behind the discrimination against Indigenous groups. Idaho only requires Indigineous culture to be taught during fourth grade history, but it needs to be an encompassing part of school curriculums. It is not enough to just teach about Native Americans during history class. 

“The key word is history. It exists in history but it is not done,” Hernandez said. “We’re still developing with the times. We are not a thing of the past.”

Idaho has an Indigenous population of over 40,000, making up just over 2% of the state’s population, according to the World Population Review in 2022. Indigenous people are an inherent part of Idaho and are deserving of being a consistent part of the state’s education, not just a singular lesson. 

Allowing Native culture to be included in regular conversation, both inside and outside of the classroom, is an integral part of dismantling the long-held prejudice and biases against Indigenous people. 

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