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New Summer Institute Brings Native American Voices & Perspectives to the Classroom

23 October 2015

We had a busy July at Primary Source running our signature summer institutes, and new to our line-up was Native America Across Five Centuries, a weeklong program aimed at making K-12 educators better able to incorporate American Indians into their teaching about Massachusetts and American history more generally. “It was important to us to incorporate a variety of native voices and perspectives,” says Program Director Josh Cracraft. “We were fortunate to have a number of indigenous scholars, educators, speakers, and outreach coordinators join us to talk about history and culture.”(1) Intended as an interdisciplinary program, the week featured scholars with backgrounds in a variety of academic disciplines, including history, English, anthropology, and Native American studies, showcasing a diversity of different teaching methodologies. In addition, several course participants were Native American or had native ancestry, leading to wonderful individual family stories being interwoven with course content.

While the course covered the time from before the arrival of Europeans up through the present day, the course content--including lectures, teacher-led workshops, presentations, panels, readings, and activities--were all coordinated to highlight one or more of the major course themes, including: Native American agency, past and present, and that native peoples actively shaped the history of the continent; that native peoples and communities are still here today; that conquest wasn't inevitable; and that there was and is wide diversity of indigenous cultures, views, and identities. 

A highlight of the course included a day spent at the Harvard Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology, which has one of the largest collections of native North American artifacts in the world. Participants were taken on a behind-the-scenes tour through the museum's storage facilities to learn how objects are stored respectfully, and they had time to explore the public galleries, where they learned how the museum works with indigenous educators and communities to create and assemble the exhibits.

With cutting-edge research and approaches to doing and thinking about Native American history, course participants had the opportunity to confront stereotypes about American Indians, and to discuss issues such as Indian removal in a global context by exploring similarities, differences, and sometimes even connections between what was happening in Indian Country in the United States in the 1820s, '30s, and 40s and what was going on in other English-speaking settler frontiers at the time, including Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.  “My knowledge prior to this course was very limited,” remarked one participant. “I now have a much deeper understanding of the diversity and relationships between tribes, the effects European contact had on the native population, the rise of [indigenous] empires in North America, the role Native Americans played in various US wars, and the situations and challenges they face today.”

Course participants will reconvene in October to discuss key issues that American Indian communities face in the 21st century, and have the opportunity to talk about Native Americans living in Boston today.

(1) Including Dr. Josh Reid (Snohomish) a historian and Native American Studies professor from UMass-Boston/the University of Washington; Dr. Lisa Brooks (Abenaki), an English professor at Amherst College; Dr. Cedric Woods (Lumbee), an anthropologist at UMass-Boston; Lorén Spears (Narragansett), the executive director of the Tomaquag Museum; and Donna Edmunds Mitchell (Wampanoag), an educator from the Massachusetts Center for Native American Awareness. On our follow-up day in October, we'll also be hearing from Claudia Fox Tree (Arawak), also from MCNAA; Terrie Drew (Mi'kmaq), an educator with the North American Indian Center of Boston; and Lacina Onco (Shinnecock/Kiowa), formerly of Native American Lifelines.

Image Credit: 1898 Portrait of American Horse and wife: LIBRARY OF CONGRESS 

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