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Teaching the Important, Honest, and Troubling History of Native California

created Jul 01, 2019 10:35 AM

Native Americans on Alcatraz Island during the 1969-1971 occupation to reclaim native land. Photograph Courtesy of the California Historical Society.

Editor's Note:  As we travel around California, one of the most frequent concerns we hear from teachers is that they don’t feel prepared to teach students about the history of California Indians.  Elementary teachers have explained that they don’t know enough about pre-contact California, especially the history of indigenous people in their local area.  Eighth-grade teachers reflect that their current resources are incomplete and don’t fully document the perspective of native peoples during the 19th Century.  And high school teachers often remark they don’t have anything on native history after 1900. We’ve heard these concerns and in response, we’ve brought together a new team of scholars and members of native communities to design a workshop specifically focused on teaching the history of California Indians. Historians Shelley Brooks and Michelle Lorimer will lead the workshop, aided by the important scholarly contributions of Benjamin Madley, Steven Hackel, Clifford Trafzer, Khal Schneider, and Gregg Castro.  This workshop will debut at our new Framework Conference series, which starts on September 10 at UC Irvine.  Read below for a special blog post about the workshop, and learn more about the Framework Conference series here.

Teaching the Important, Honest, and Troubling History of Native California

by Michelle Lorimer, Beth Slutsky, and Shelley Brooks

In West Sacramento last month, Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order to apologize for California’s treatment of its Native population.   As the governor explained, “That’s what it was, a genocide. No other way to describe it. And that’s the way it needs to be described in the history books.” In our new workshop, “Highlighting Native Californian History through the Framework,” we hope to guide teachers through this important, honest, and troubling investigation of California’s history.

California’s History-Social Science Framework calls for more complex examinations of California Indian history across grade levels and time periods. Our workshop will focus on ways to incorporate the history and culture of Native Californian peoples into lessons at both primary and secondary levels. Lessons that explore California Indian history provide teachers with unique opportunities to connect students with local history and contemporary Native communities that, historically, have been frequently misrepresented and not consulted in public representations of their groups.

Teaching about the history of California Indians also allows students to explore interdisciplinary themes that span the various fields of social and behavioral sciences, including history, geography, economics, civics (political science), anthropology, religious studies, and psychology. Investigations that focus on the lives of Native Californians both before and after foreign contact highlight important historical thinking strategies.  Students learn to understand diverse perspectives, evaluate historical evidence, recognize continuity and change, assess cause and consequence, and unpack ethical considerations of the past. 

We will investigate the experiences of Native peoples during transitional times in California’s history—guided by the major instructional shifts in the Framework. We will use inquiry to investigate primary source content from pre-contact, the California mission era, the Gold Rush, and the modern civil rights era.  Teachers will receive classroom-ready materials for grades 3 (local history), 4 (California history), 8 (19th-century U.S. history), 10 (modern world history), 11 (modern U.S. history), and 12 (government).  Many of these resources will come from our partnership with the California Historical Society and our shared Teaching California project, which will debut later this year. 

Michelle Lorimer, Ph.D., is an historian and lecturer at California State University, San Bernardino. Shelley Brooks, Ph.D. and Beth Slutsky, Ph.D. are Program Coordinators at the California History-Social Science Project. 

 
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