April 13, 2021

In a state where Native Americans comprise the largest minority, state law holds no requirement to teach Native American history in K-12 schools. But a bill making its way through the North Dakota legislature is poised to change that. The state House passed Senate bill No. 2304 on Tuesday in a 72-21 vote. If similarly passed in the Senate, the bill would require all elementary and high schools in the state to include curriculum on Native American history effective Aug. 1, 2022.

And although there is some talk about pushing back the date the law goes into effect until 2024, Cara Currie-Hall, an advocate for the legislation from the Maskwacis Cree tribe, told Indian Country Today getting the bill to this point took "a lot of people emailing, texting, calling all of their state legislators, to try to get behind this bill." “Even the naysayers learn something from us, and there was so many people that you know are behind the scenes and the unsung heroes,” Currie-Hall said on Tuesday. “And those young ones that came to the Capitol today, the elders that came to the Capitol, the veterans that came to the Capitol, that really really matters and everybody has a role to claim, making change and making history.”

Rep. Ruth Buffalo, the bill’s original author, told KX News the legislation had to be split into two parts when a tie-vote previously kept it from advancing in March. One part of the bill, Division A, gets at the heart of the legislation that tribal history be required in North Dakota. Another part, Division B, would require the instruction as a condition of high school graduation. “There were opponents to the including the history, U.S. history component, which is high school. And so in an effort to not kill the bill completely because they didn’t agree with one section of the bill, they split it into two,” Buffalo told KX News. Both parts passed in the House on Tuesday.

When they did, students in attendance could be heard cheering from the balcony, the North Dakota House and Senate Democratic–Nonpartisan League Party Caucus said on Facebook. “As the author of the original bill, Representative Buffalo believes this curriculum will contribute to the visibility of Native Americans--both in a historical context and as a modern population,” the caucus said. She told Indian County Today: “That's really going to help work towards building community, you know a better reaching a better understanding of our neighbors and also you know ultimately it's going to bring healing. So we're just super excited and proud and thankful that my colleagues in the state legislature saw fit to pass this bill, and it took everybody to help with this. It was definitely a team effort and community effort, a North Dakota effort.”

Credit: Facebook Post

The Senate, however, refused to concur with the revised bill on Thursday, and a conference committee was appointed. Native Americans represent less than 1% of the nation's households but more than 5% of the population in North Dakota, according to the North Dakota Census Office.

Lucy Fredericks, director of Indian and Multicultural Education for the Department of Instruction, told KX news the legislation is needed “to provide culturally responsive practices and strategies in the classrooms so that students can have that connection and so that they will feel more comfortable and included.”

Republished with permission from Daily Kos.

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