Washington Report

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Senator Tina Smith Introduces Bill to Improve Education About Native Peoples and Their Histories

On October 4, Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) introduced S.3019, the Native Histories and Cultures Education Act of 2023. The bill intends to provide for the development of “accurate, relevant, and accessible” educational resources about Native Americans. Senator Smith described her motivations for introducing the bill saying, “It is unacceptable that so many Americans are under- and misinformed about Native peoples and their history.” The press release from Senator Smith’s Office further explains that focusing on primary and secondary education systems is essential to address the spread of inaccurate information about Native peoples.

The bill’s proposed approach to the development of new educational materials works closely with the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). The bill would direct NMAI to engage in consultation with Tribes, Tribal Organizations, and Tribal Colleges to solicit input on content for a “base curriculum” on Native peoples. Using the feedback from this consultation, NMAI would create a base curriculum for primary and secondary educational levels, covering a variety of topics, including “the unique government-to-government relationship between the Federal Government and Indian Tribes and the trust and treaty-based responsibilities owed to Native American peoples and Indian Tribes.” Additionally, the bill provides for a grant program administered through NMAI to support Tribes, States, or Local Educational Agencies in developing regionally specific educational materials and implementing the curricula.

Senator Smith’s office credits inspiration for the bill to the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and their Understand Native Minnesota Initiative, which integrates “greater awareness” of Native Americans into Minnesota’s K-12 educational curriculum. At present, the bill has received endorsements from several National American Indian and Educational Organizations, such as the National Congress of American Indians, National Indian Education Association, and the American Indian Higher Education Consortium. The Native Histories and Cultures Education Act has been referred to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs but has not yet been considered by the committee.

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