Marysville School District
Marysville administrators show their excitement for the coming year.

Marysville School District Adopts Indigenous History Curriculum

Richard Walker

During a recent visit to Quil Ceda Elementary School on the Tulalip reservation in Washington State, Matt Remle, Lakota, watched as a third-grade teacher worked with her students, using a Native American culture and history curriculum.

“The students were engaged,” said Remle, Native liaison at two high schools in the Marysville School District. “I’ve seen it in a few schools where teachers have used [the curriculum].”

A 2005 state law “strongly encourages” school districts in Washington state to use the curriculum, titled “Since Time Immemorial: Tribal Sovereignty,” but the law’s author, state Sen. John McCoy, estimates that only 30 percent of the state’s districts do so. 

Based partly on the success of its Quil Ceda Elementary School, the Marysville School Board on December 8 unanimously adopted the “Since Time Immemorial” curriculum as core curriculum for all district schools.

The district’s K-12 schools will now be required to teach the history, culture, governance and current affairs of indigenous nations in their area. Children from the Tulalip Tribes attend Marysville School District schools.

State House Bill 1495, the legislation that established “Since Time Immemorial,” seeks to improve student knowledge of indigenous history and culture; foster cross-cultural respect and understanding; and bolster cultural sensitivity in all students.

It also seeks to give more balance to history instruction, which has often ignored the state’s indigenous history.

“We do have a rich, solid history in the state, and it should be taught,” McCoy said. Doing so would help students understand sovereignty and the work that indigenous nations do in their historical territories—authority that many elected officials don’t understand, McCoy said.

After H.B. 1495 was approved, the state Office of Native Education worked with the 29 indigenous nations located in Washington in developing the “Since Time Immemorial” curriculum. The curriculum is offered for free to school districts, but many districts have been slow to implement it. H.B. 1495 only “strongly recommends” districts use the curriculum.

McCoy sponsored H.B. 1495 when he was a member of the state House of Representatives. He said he couldn’t get the legislative support that districts be required to use the curriculum.

Beginning in early September 2014, a group of Marysville School District staff members, teachers, principals and Native liaisons began a process of working together to make the curriculum required instruction for the district’s K-12 schools.

Remle, a member of the curriculum committee, said he will lobby the school board in Seattle, where he lives, to adopt the curriculum. He said the curriculum could help improve academic performance there. According to the Seattle-based Urban Native Education Association, American Indian/Alaska Native/First Nations students score 30 to 40 percent lower than their non-Native peers on state standardized exams. Some 29.9 percent of Native students in Seattle Public Schools are in special education. And Native students have the highest dropout rate, beginning in the seventh grade with another spike in the 10th grade.

“I’ve seen positive outcomes” from the curriculum’s use, Remle said. “For the teachers, it’s easy curriculum to use. And it brings in new voices.”

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