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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


July 28, 2001 - Issue 41


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Getting American Indian Culture into the Classroom


 by Tony Spilde Bismark Tribune-July 14, 2001


art by Carol Grigg

Bismark, ND - Fifty teachers from across the Dakotas gathered in Bismarck this week to learn how to better teach American Indian students.

For five days, United Tribes Technical College hosted the third annual Summer Teacher Institute. Coordinators of the program sought to inspire educators to teach students about Indian culture.

"Our Indian students need to take pride, they should know who they are and see the value in their heritage," John Derby, UTTC's vice president of academic affairs, said. "Teachers can do more to learn about Indian values."

Part of the program was a panel discussion on the issues that impact American Indian students' learning. Some of those factors -- having concerned parents, dedicated teachers and dealing with high expectations, for example -- are matters that affect any student. Others, however, are more American Indian-specific.

Cheryl Kulas, executive director of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission, said teachers who have American Indian students need to understand those students sometimes deal with factors such as high transfer rates, generational substance-abuse problems and historical trauma.

"Our social environment is toxic," Kulas said. "I believe all of our students are at risk. Kids need to know and understand that their culture is important."

Another main point of the program was that students learn better through hands-on experience. When teaching about culture and language, Riverside Elementary principal Teresa Delorme said, kids need to be engaged physically as well as mentally. They should create culturally important items like star quilts, for example, to help the history come alive.

That's true for language as well, Delorme said. Students should know what individual words mean and should be immersed in speaking the language they're learning. Lucy Fredericks, who helps teach the Mandan language at Twin Buttes Elementary in Halliday, said the week-long program has helped her develop new ideas about teaching.

"I've learned some effective strategies for teaching Native American students about culture and language," Fredericks said. "That's important at our school, which is 99 percent Native American. Only six or seven people (in the world) speak Mandan, so it's important to keep that culture alive."

In its third year, the United Tribes teaching program is going strong, said John Beheler, tribal tourism director for UTTC. He said the college started the program to provide a means to join teachers together so they could communicate about ways to bring Indian culture into the classroom.

Bismarck Public Schools' curriculum director John Salwei said the district receives about $9,000 a year from the federal government to teach Indian-related supplementary programs in K-12 classes.

 Maps by Travel

United Tribes Technical College
United Tribes Technical College has been serving the
academic, social, and cultural needs of American Indians since 1969. Located on a 105 acre campus in Bismarck, North Dakota, United Tribes Technical College is dedicated to providing a comprehensive education and helping it's students attain self-sufficiency and an improved quality of life.


History of the North Dakota Indian Tribes
The five tribes within North Dakota are now known as:  Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, Spirit Lake Nation (Ft.Totten), Three Affiliated Tribes (Ft. Berthold), Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe

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Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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