How the federal government and LEAs are preserving and celebrating Native American culture

Federal agencies and California schools are making efforts to celebrate Native American culture this November for National Native American Heritage Month.

On Nov. 15, the United States Departments of the Interior, Education and Health and Human Services announced an initiative aimed at preserving, protecting and promoting Native American’s rights to use, practice and develop Native languages, according to a release.

Following more than 150 years of suppression and eradication of Native languages in the U.S. by factors including federal boarding and schools that made American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian young people abandon their language, the news came as part of the 2021 White House Tribal Nations Summit.

“The Department of Education is committed to advancing equity and excellence in our nation’s education system for Native American students to fulfill our commitment to furthering Tribal sovereignty and self-determination. A vital part of that work entails ensuring that the cultural and linguistic identities of Native American students are affirmed in school,” said Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona in a statement. “Native American languages connect to a delicate and meaningful balance with belief systems and treasured heritage. And as I’ve learned in speaking with Tribes, these belief systems, in turn, provide a way of understanding and connecting to the past, present and future through Native American values that have been transferred over generations. For all these reasons, I’m proud that the Biden administration is committed to supporting the preservation and revitalization of Native languages.”

The agencies, along with five others, signed a memorandum of agreement furthering the Native American Languages Act of 1990 while establishing new language-related goals and programs. According to the release, the agreement reaffirmed the creation of an annual national summit on Native languages, which  took place this year on Nov. 18 and 19.

Local educational agencies celebrate

In California, home to more than 100 federally recognized Tribal Nations, LEAs recognized National Native American Heritage Month in a variety of ways.

In Woodland Joint Unified School District, the school board passed a resolution on the month encouraging schools to take part in activities highlighting the contributions of Native Americans and acknowledging that land in Yolo County has long been home to the Patwin people, including Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation.

Berkeley USD also passed a resolution and provided resources and guides in English and Spanish on how families can honor and learn about Indigenous people.

On Nov. 11, Stockton USD posted to its Facebook page that its Native Center Team worked with the Family Resource Center to present a Native American Showcase. The event showcased the team’s culture classes and cultural items, college workshops and gatherings, and included a musical performance and fry bread.

In Los Angeles USD, district leaders highlighted its Indian Education Program while Anaheim Union High School District posted to its Twitter account featured public figures like race car driver Cory Witherill, professional chef Sean Sherman, NASA mechanical engineer Aaron Yazzie and surgeon and author Lori Arviso Alvord.

CSBA is celebrating National Native American Heritage Month with stories of people and programs that uplift Native American students. Read Emphasizing accuracy during Native American Heritage MonthandKlamath-Trinity Joint USD program provides strong support for Native American students on the CSBA blog.