Story at a glance

  • Washington passed a law in 2015 requiring the state's tribal history, culture and government to be taught in schools.
  • With more than two dozen federally recognized tribes in the state, the curricula are being developed on a local level.
  • The Samish Indian Nation worked with the Anacortes School District to develop a curriculum for K-12 students.

Samish Education Program Manager Denise Crowe knows firsthand the value of a tribal education — because she never had one. 

“I grew up in Washington and I can say that that [tribal] education was very sporadic and it really wasn't until I was an adult that I started digging deeper,” Crowe said. 

Five years after Washington passed legislation requiring the state's tribal history, culture and government to be taught in schools, the Anacortes School District is adopting a new curriculum created in partnership with the Samish Indian Nation. 

“It is vast and deep and rich and inclusive of many different tribal perspectives throughout the state,” she said. “It really gets into the detail of different language groups and such among the tribes. There’s an incredible diversity in this region of so many different tribal nations that predate colonial contact and have endured.”


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Before they could teach it to their students, public school educators had to learn the lessons themselves. “Since Time Immemorial” was introduced to teachers across the state, including Seattle Public Schools, last year, but each district is responsible for working with local tribes in their area to teach the history of the land their children go to school on. 

“This is not just for Native students at all, this is for all students in the state so that we can all have a better understanding,” Crowe said. “Our dominant culture has done a very good job of erasing nondominant perspectives and I think that there is a rapidly growing understanding that we have to expand our knowledge and that we have to strive to include different perspectives.”


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The curriculum, which is available online, covers kindergarten to 12th grade and multiple disciplines, from history to science. The value of tribal education is more than just an understanding of the past, Crowe said, but also new ways of understanding current events and issues. 

“We all have a responsibility to understand ourselves more deeply, to understand each other, to understand our differences and value those differences and to learn how to work together in reciprocal exchange,” Crowe said. “In Samish understanding that extends not just to other people but also very deeply the natural world, with plants, with animals. If there could be a little more of that understanding brought to all of us [as] we are currently facing extreme environmental dysfunction, I think there is very much a place for us to understand traditional indigenous wisdom in our daily lives.”

Now, the curriculum will have to be adopted for remote learning as schools remain closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“It’s not fast work. It’s work that to be done right, really takes time,” Crowe said. “It seems like it’s so simple that we should know the deep human history of the places that we live, but that just isn't true.”


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Published on Oct 08, 2020