Fall River Herald News: Mass. students miss out on Native American history

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By Jamie Gass
Pioneer Institute

Read more: http://www.heraldnews.com/newsnow/x970311397/GUEST-OPINION-Mass-students-miss-out-on-Native-American-history#ixzz2EIosjcfa

Since 1990, four United States Presidents have proclaimed November National Native American Heritage Month. Unfortunately, most of the commonwealth’s students are unaware of Indians’ innumerable contributions to our country.

When Christopher Columbus landed in the Caribbean islands on his quest to reach Asia, he mistakenly believed he’d reached the Indian Ocean and referred to the native peoples he encountered as indios, Spanish for “Indians.”

Massachusetts’ name is derived from the Native American tribe in the Milton and Blue Hills area anmeans “near the great hill.” There were three major Indian tribes in the commonwealth: the Wampanoags, Mohegans, and Mohicans.

Adopted in 1780, Massachusetts’ seal portrays an Algonquian tribesman with a bow and arrow; the arrow is held downward, symbolizing peace.

From Connecticut to Alaska and Oregon to Alabama, over half the states have Native American names, while Chicago, Milwaukee, Cheyenne, Seattle, and Miami are among the cities with Indian identifiers. Numerous rivers, including the Missouri, Mississippi, Arkansas, Ohio and Chattahoochee, have Indian origins.

Native American identities are also deeply imprinted within the classics of American literature.

James Fenimore Cooper’s fictional character Chingachgook, caught in the middle of the French and Indian War, was “The Last of the Mohicans.” “The Pequod” was the name of Captain Ahab’s ship in Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem, “The Song of Hiawatha,” was based on the tales of the Ojibwe tribe of Lake Superior.

Famously, Squanto, a Patuxet, aided the Pilgrims after their severe first winter, which we celebrate on Thanksgiving. Shoshone tribeswoman Sacajawea is revered as a guide and interpreter for Meriwether Lewis and William Clark during their Corps of Discovery of the West in 1804-1806. Other important Native American historical figures include the Lakota warrior Crazy Horse and the Apache chieftain Geronimo.

The Cherokee Sequoyah’s writing system, the Nez Perce leader Chief Joseph’s resistance to federal removal policies, and the Lakota tribal chief Sitting Bull’s vision for defeating Lt. Col. George Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876 are milestones of American Indian history.

The United States government’s violent policies towards native peoples are among our worst national disgraces. There was Andrew Jackson’s murderous treatment of the Creeks and Seminoles in 1814-18. Then, during the 1831-38 “Trail of Tears,” 10,000 Cherokees and Choctaws died as nearly 50,000 members of five tribes were forcibly removed from their homelands in the southeast.

In 1881, Amherst-raised Helen Hunt Jackson published “A Century of Dishonor,” which recounted the U.S. government’s grave injustices against American Indians. Nine years later, at the Wounded Knee Massacre in South Dakota, the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment killed 300 Lakota Sioux men, women and children.

Understanding the complexity our country’s Native American past requires knowing U.S. history. Regrettably, on the civics portion of the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the Nation’s Report Card, over two-thirds of America’s students scored below “proficient.”

Preferring softer 21st century skills like “media awareness” and “systems thinking” to academics, the Patrick administration in 2009 postponed a requirement, starting with the class of 2012, that Massachusetts public school students pass a U.S. history MCAS test to graduate from high school.

“Evidently Governor Patrick, a casino gambling advocate, believes commercializing Native American identities via their decorous use for casinos, slot machines, and craps tables is the best way to teach cross-cultural competence in the 21st century,” said anthropologist, Dr. Peter Wood, author of “Diversity: The Invention of a Concept.”

While the casino plans move forward, Massachusetts education officials claim we can’t afford to administer U.S. history MCAS tests. But state legislators, who appropriate the money, disagree. In a recent poll, more than two-thirds (68 percent) of the legislators surveyed said they could find the $2.4 million needed within the $4.5 billion the state spends annually on K-12 public education (local taxpayers contribute another $4.5 billion).

“Our Indian races having reared no monuments, like the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians,” wrote Salem’s Nathaniel Hawthorne in his 1837 journal, “when they have disappeared from the earth their history will appear a fable and they misty phantoms.” So that our schoolchildren’s knowledge of Native American heritage doesn’t simply fade away too, isn’t it time to reinstate the U.S. history MCAS test?

Jamie Gass directs the Center for School Reform at Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based think tank.

Read more: http://www.heraldnews.com/newsnow/x970311397/GUEST-OPINION-Mass-students-miss-out-on-Native-American-history#ixzz2EIon1BYG