Willamina school adopts tribal education lessons

Of Smoke Signals

Willamina Elementary School fourth-graders will receive instruction in Grand Ronde tribal history this school year when a curriculum created by the nearby tribe is taught for the first time.

The pilot project includes 15 lessons that will teach Willamina youth about Grand Ronde tribal history from time immemorial through termination in the 1950s, restoration in the 1980s and today's status as a sovereign nation.

The tribe signs an annual memorandum of understanding with the Willamina School District that makes the teaching of tribal history possible. Grand Ronde tribal students make up approximately 30 percent of Willamina's student population.

The curriculum was created this summer by the Tribe's Land & Culture and Education staff, said former Education Department Manager April Campbell, who left tribal employment Sept. 9 to become the state's new Indian education specialist with the Department of Education.

“This project has been long overdue,” Campbell said at the Sept. 8 General Council meeting held in the Tribal Community Center.

Kathy Cole, Grand Ronde Cultural Education and Outreach Program manager, said the curriculum is designed to assist in educating teachers in how to connect with and teach Native students who often have to walk in two worlds - their Native culture and mainstream society.

Cole said the curriculum is designed for how Native students learn, which tends to be more visual and through physical activity as opposed to sitting and listening to a lecture.

Grand Ronde Adult Education Coordinator Trinity Minahan said the curriculum comes with supplemental resources, such as a Native American reading list compiled by Grand Ronde Tribal Librarian Marion Mercier, a specialized compact disc of Native music compiled by Grand Ronde Land and Culture manager and award-winning Native flutist Jan Looking Wolf Reibach, maps created by Grand Ronde Tribal GIS Coordinator Volker Mell and copies of the Tribe's seven ratified treaties and the Tribal Constitution.

The curriculum also encourages Willamina teachers to invite tribal members and elders into the classroom, as well as take a field trip to the tribal campus.

Minahan said the tribe is looking for feedback from Willamina teachers as they teach the curriculum so that it can be amended as needed and improved.

“Each lesson has a lesson feedback form for the teachers to fill out,” Cole said.

Eventually, Minahan said, the tribe would like the curriculum endorsed by the state Department of Education so it can be taught to more grade levels in more school districts. Oregon school districts will be more likely to implement it in classrooms with the endorsement, she added.

“When you actually look at this book, and this is just the history that will be taught in fourth grade, you can see how much work went into preparing for just one grade,” said Grand Ronde Tribal Council Chair Reyn Leno, a longtime proponent of teaching the history of Oregon's nine federally-recognized tribes in statewide classrooms. “I would like to acknowledge our education staff for all the hard work that they have done.”

Willamina Elementary School Principal Carrie Zimbrick said the lessons are already being taught.

“They did a really fabulous job putting it together,” Zimbrick said, adding that Willamina students also will learn more history about the state through use of a book titled “Get Oregonized.”

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