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Indigenous studies teaching certificate to be introduced in New York

The purple and white flag of the Onondaga Nation is shown on the Syracuse University campus.
Matt Hassan
The Onondaga Nation flag blows in the wind on the Syracuse University campus.

New York's education department is proposing a new teacher certification to expand instruction in indigenous studies. The proposed Indigenous Culture and Language Studies certification would allow more children to learn about culture native to Central New York. 

The state Department of Education said the change would encourage more schools to hire teachers in the field—right now, instructors must regularly renew their permits to teach these subjects.

Onondaga Nation School culture teacher Bradley Powless said the proposal could also attract new teachers to the subject, potentially establishing it as a permanent role in some schools, which he said is essential for native children. 

“It’s really an important reminder to the kids, a good self identity for the children. It’s something we feel that the kids need, knowing who they are when they’re exploring the big world outside of the nation,” Powless said.

He said he is alarmed that children around the county don’t know much about the Onondaga Nation, especially when it’s so close to Syracuse.

“We’re located just a five to 10 minute drive south of Syracuse. But, so many school districts don’t know about the Onondaga people living just outside their borders. We know that just from some of the request we get to go visit children’s schools," Powless said. "When we do it, we can see that they really want to learn about us. But, some are like, 'Wow, we didn’t know Onondaga really existed'—It’s kind of like a myth."

Powless said the Onondaga Nation is fortunate to have schools on their territory but the proposal would really help natives in New York state who are missing that.

“Other communities don’t have that luxury that we have. Maybe there’s a community that only has maybe a few native kids going to their district and they’re not on native territory. So, the parents say, 'Well, we want to have these kids learn our native dialect or our native language.' What do you do? I think for those kids something like this is really going to help them," Powless said.

The state education department said it will consult indigenous nations about these proposed regulations and is accepting public comment until May 1. The department will present the proposal to the State Board of Regents for adoption in June. 

Matt Hassan is a senior broadcast and digital journalism student at Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Public Communications. He is minoring in History and sport management. Matt grew up in Port Washington, New York on Long Island. He creates print, radio, and television stories almost daily on a wide range of topics, including hard news, profiles, and sports. Matt hopes to pursue a career as either a reporter or producer of news.