When Jordann Lankford, an Indian Education for All instructional coach at Great Falls Public Schools, was named the 2022 Montana History Teacher of the Year, we decided to dedicate a new-school-year column to her achievement. Since she received this award, several other Native women have featured in the news; we decided to expand this column to applaud them, too.
Lankford is A’aniiih and Anishinaabe. She is one of 53 finalists for the 2022 National History Teacher of the Year award, the winner of which will be announced in October. Her award is particularly important now. We are in a national debate about how to teach history to our children. Angry parents are threatening teachers who include tolerance and multi-culturalism in their lesson plans. Legislators are promoting lists of children’s books they think should be banned from libraries and schools and passing laws that forbid classroom discussions of certain topics such as gender identity and the lasting impact of racism in our nation. Textbook companies are whitewashing the gruesomeness of slavery.
In Montana, the law requires teaching all students about Native American heritage. Awarding a Native woman Teacher of the Year for “teaching not only this history of our federal, state and local governments but also to celebrate the unique and distinct cultural heritages of our first people”, recognizes Montana’s commitment to American Indian culture and that commitment in the state's educational goals. The Montana Constitution “recognizes the distinct and unique cultural heritage of the American Indians and is committed in its educational goals to the preservation of their cultural integrity.” The 1999 Indian Education for All Act requires recognition of American Indian culture and a commitment in the state's educational goals to preserve Indian cultural heritage.
Lankford’s award is particularly poignant now; news media are carrying multiple stories of nations, churches, and communities confronting the dark history of schools and education used as a cultural genocidal weapon against First Peoples. Schools have not been a safe place for Native children. Education has been used to enforce assimilation, segregate, stigmatize and punish children deemed “different”.
Today, in the 21st century, all children need good educations—educations that not only teach them accurately about the past but prepare them for the future. Children will be the people who save the planet, go to the moon, again, and create a society that values everyone equally. It is the responsibility of adults to provide children the resources they need, and outstanding educators like Jordann Lankford help children achieve their goals.
Two other Native women are in the news for their achievements. Marilynn Malerba, chief of the Mohegan Tribe, made history as the first Native American to serve as U.S. Treasurer. Her signature will appear on U.S. currency. Mary Peltola, who is Yup'ik, made history when she was sworn in as the first Alaska Native elected to Congress and the first woman to hold that Congressional seat. Peltola’s campaign emphasized her dedication to “fish, family and freedom.” Fish, and salmon in particular carry cultural significance for Alaska Natives.
Finally, we want to applaud the work to remove derogatory, sexist place names from maps and minds. As Interior Secretary Deb Haaland states, “our nation’s lands and waters should be places to celebrate the outdoors and our shared cultural heritage — not to perpetuate the legacies of oppression.” Purging offensive terms from our maps returns some respect and dignity to all Native peoples.
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