A sign displayed during the Walk for the Ancestors, a 650-mile journey that took participants to all 21 Indian missions in California. Photo: Walk for the Ancestors

Steven Newcomb: Teaching students in California about true Native history

A new bill in California aims to establish a Native studies curriculum in public schools. Steven Newcomb (Shawnee / Lenape) of the Indigenous Law Institute calls the measure a good way to teach students about the imposition of religious and other ideals on Native peoples:
A decolonizing Native American studies curriculum ought to include a closer look at the Christian religious basis of the phrase, “Native American ethnicity” in CA AB-738. According to Webster’s dictionary, the root word “ethnic” is traced to the idea of people who are “neither Christian nor Jewish,” because they are “HEATHEN,” (capital letters in the original). The word “heathen” is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as, “a word of Christian origin.” The Bible is the basis of the religion called Christianity.

Webster’s defines the term “heathen” as, “of or relating to the heathen, their religions, or their customs: PAGAN. . .STRANGE, UNCIVILIZED.” It is further defined as, “an unconverted [i.e., unbaptized] member of a people or nation that does not acknowledge the God of the Bible.”

Thus, the phrase “Native American ethnicity” in CA AB-738 tacitly frames today’s Native students as the descendants of non-Christian Native ancestors, who were defined by the Christian European colonizers as “heathens,” “pagans,” “gentiles,” “bestias” (“beasts”), and “uncivilized.” A well-designed “Native Studies” curriculum will teach students the basis for Christian Europeans claiming that Native nations and peoples were “uncivilized.” It was because they had never been dominated by Christian Europeans.

Read More on the Story:
Steven Newcomb: Toward a Native Nations Studies Curriculum in California (Indian Country Media Network 7/26)

Also Today:
Chumash support legislation to establish Native American studies (The Santa Maria Times 4/12)

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