Bridging the gap in teaching Native American history
A University of Texas at Arlington student and faculty member are working to make a Native American studies course available to Texas public school students.
Stephen Silva Brave, a student in the School of Social Work, and Kenneth Roemer, UTA professor emeritus, are part of a group working with Grand Prairie ISD on an American Indian/Native Studies pilot course that could be available as an elective statewide as soon as the 2024-25 school year.
Brave first learned of the course in January 2020, when Grand Prairie ISD hosted a gathering of Native teachers and leaders from Texas and Oklahoma to receive insight on what it should look like. Brave, who is Sicangu Lakota and a parent of two Grand Prairie ISD students, attended and offered his thoughts.
“I thought we needed to gear the course toward non-Natives and make it where non-Natives can also teach the course,” Brave said. “Grand Prairie is not on a reservation, and it’s not a town near one.”
Brave said he figured the experts would take it from there. But on his way out, district representatives stopped him and said they needed his perspective on the course committee. The group has since spent countless hours meeting and discussing every detail of the course.
While the final structure remains a work in progress, the course will cover a wide range of topics, including history, civics and citizenship, geography and economics. Its curriculum comes from a Native perspective, ensuring that the community’s voice is heard, regardless of who is teaching.
Roemer has longstanding relationships with the Native American community in North Texas and was brought in to help shape the course. He said he is guided by the principle that a person can be a better citizen for the future with a good education on the past.
“If you’re non-Native, the more you can learn about other people and look at them as human beings and not stereotypes, the better,” Roemer said. “If you are a Native person, the more you can learn about your own history and the relationships between Natives and non-Natives, the more it will help you to function as an individual and a citizen.”
Roemer and Brave agree that there is a gap in the teaching of Native American history that does not fully explain the impact Natives have had on the country, including contributions in science, medicine and literature, among other fields. They hope this course will bring those contributions to light and inspire students.
“We’re often seen in the historical sense, but I want people to see that we’re still here,” Brave said. “We’re regular citizens. I listen to Kendrick Lamar, and I go to traditional ceremonies. I want to change that perception.”
A state committee has reviewed the course. It now goes to the state Board of Education. If approved, it would join other ethnic studies courses that have been approved by the state Board of Education in recent years, including a Mexican American Studies course in 2018 and an African American Studies course in 2019.