Elementary and middle school classrooms in Connecticut will focus more on the history of Indigenous people if lawmakers decide to pass legislation to update the state-mandated curriculum.
Connecticut lawmakers on the education committee heard testimonies this week in support of a bill that would develop a new model curriculum for kindergarten through Grade 8. The bill would also develop curriculum on Asian American and Pacific Islander studies, sexual orientation and gender identities studies, veterans and military service, climate change, and financial literacy.
Senator Cathy Osten said this is overdue.
“A model curriculum put on hold to some future date does not address the issue that should be already addressed and that is my concern that we are being put on the back burner again. I just want to make sure that we are getting this out there,” said Osten, who introduced the measure in November to promote Native American history.
The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, Mohegan Tribe, Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation, Golden Hill Paugussett Tribal Nation and the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation — the five tribes recognized by the state — all support the measure.
Schaghticoke chief Richard Velky said Native American history is being misrepresented to children in schools.
“I don’t remember a time they were coming home to me or their parents talking about what they learned about Native Americans in Connecticut that day in school and it needs to happen; it’s way overdue,” Velky said. “Our children, and even our adults, need to be educated about their heritage here in this great state of Connecticut.
“Just to continue this again for another session would just be denying the facts and the help the Indigenous people here in the state of Connecticut need,” he continued.
Some lawmakers questioned the urgency of reframing the curriculum on Native American history. For instance, Senator Kathleen McCarty, who supports a similar House bill, said coursework on Native American culture and history, specifically for fifth graders, would adequately explore “ways the Indigenous people helped the colonies survive.”
The tribes argue the material on colonialism and violent treatment of Indigenous people are glossed over.
“Diversity is now a catch word as so many people and cultures are demanding and being recognized," Velky said. “Ask yourself, why isn’t that the truth about our first citizens and native people are no less important.”
Osten said young students need an accurate and specific education. She said there are histories that are being misrepresented.
“We are missing the point that they were here before us and that has been our problem not just in this state but it’s been our problem as a country,” Osten said. “That we have not recognized that Indigenous people were here and had governments and structures that we tried to eliminate."
“I don’t think we need a day to talk about Native Americans. I don’t think we need a week or a month. I have always found that those days or weeks or months don’t address the true issues, and that’s the incorporation of the diversity that the state of Connecticut has,” she continued.