Opinion: My Students Came Alive As They Learned The Powerful Histories Of Our Local Tribes

Longtime Shasta County 8th grade teacher Cindy Hogue (Dawnom Wintu) writes about her experience crafting and teaching a pilot middle school curriculum focused on the history of Indian Boarding Schools. She says the curriculum inspired her students to learn from Native people’s courageous survival and emboldened them to investigate for themselves how this history relates to their lives and futures.
A lesson on Indian Boarding Schools taught to local 8th graders. The lesson is part of Hogue’s pilot curriculum project documenting government arrangements to transport Native students from Redding back to the Carson Indian School. Indian Boarding Schools represent a tragic period in American history when Native children were forcibly separated from their Native families and culture to be assimilated into white settler culture at boarding schools. Many Native children experienced unspeakable horrors in Indian boarding schools and the harm they caused continues to impact Native people today.

I am Dawnom Wintu, and I have been a teacher in Shasta County for over 25 years. Most people will hear Wintu, but have no idea that the Wintu Tribe is made up of several bands. The Wintu people live in the area ranging from the McCloud River in the North to Cottonwood Creek in the South, Round Mountain in the East, and the Bald Hills in the West. My band, the Dawnom Wintu, traditionally lives in the area from Cottonwood Creek to the Bald Hills, and I was blessed to be able to teach 8th grade English Language Arts and History at a local neighborhood school in Dawnom territory for over 20 years.

Two years ago, the Shasta County Office of Education (SCOE) introduced me to a small group of local teachers who hoped to write curriculum that introduces students in grades 3, 5, and 8 to local Tribes, including the Wintu Tribe of Northern California, the Winnemem Wintu, the Pit River Tribe, and Redding Rancheria. 

The local curriculum writers had been recruited by SCOE’s American Indian Advisory, formed in 2018 by Superintendent Judy Flores with the heads of the local tribes as well as other native leaders, educators and community members.

One goal of the advisory group is to help educate people about the local tribes, our histories, and our ability to persevere and thrive in spite of unfavorable circumstances and unspeakable horrors. It was very important to the American Indian Advisory that local tribes approved all of the information presented in the curriculum we would write. Too many times, our history has been misrepresented or has just been false, and honestly, I think that we all have had more than enough of that.

Suffice it to say that my own Chairman and fellow American Indian Advisory member, Gary Rickard, and the rest of my Tribal Council for the Wintu Tribe of Northern California gave me the go-ahead to join the 8th grade curriculum writing team. We also included cultural consultants in the process to assure accuracy and cultural sensitivity. 

We, the teachers, spent hours and months listening to stories, writing and rewriting, checking facts, and getting approval from all of the involved parties.  Then, finally, the day came when three of us from the 8th grade team were able to pilot our first lesson. 

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I walked into my classroom that day feeling extremely exposed. My students knew that I am Dawnom Wintu. They knew that I am a Councilwoman for my tribe, and they also knew that I used to teach in a Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Boarding School in New Mexico.  What they didn’t know was any of the history of my people; so, the lesson began.

Our first lesson is on the Indian Boarding Schools, and focuses on the Courage, Survival, and Strength of our people in response to federal policies. The lesson included videos of local Wintu elders giving first-hand accounts of Native history, including Pat Begley sharing a short history of her people and Nellie Bell discussing her experience attending a BIA boarding school.

Students were introduced to the fact that children were taken, sometimes by force, from their homes to attend BIA boarding schools. They saw the distance that those children were taken from home. They saw pictures of them in their boarding school uniforms. They learned that while reading and writing were taught at the boarding schools, children were also punished for speaking their own language, weren’t able to wear their own clothes, couldn’t practice their own religious beliefs, and sometimes were punished quite severely for attempting to do any of those forbidden things. But in spite of the horrors endured by our Wintu children and the boarding schools’ efforts to sever them from their culture, they still returned home when they could, listening to our stories in our language so they could pass these gifts onto their children. 

A lesson on Indian Boarding Schools taught to local 8th graders as part of Hogue’s pilot curriculum project. The poem provides an opportunity for students to understand the cultural confusion Native children often experienced as a result of attending boarding schools.

During the lesson, I watched the faces of my students. They were 100% engaged! They asked questions. We had great discussions. I watched students that had not shown much interest in the past come alive. In fact, after the bell rang, we continued our conversations while walking to lunch.

I can’t count the number of times people have told me that they thought all of the Indians were dead. We aren’t dead.  We have always been, and in spite of attempted genocide, war, boarding schools, starvation, relocation, and all of the other atrocities that our people have endured, we continue to live, love, and thrive.

I know that there are people who are uncomfortable with the thought of true history being told. I think that is because they do not know the truth themselves, but really, what is the purpose of suppressing truth? Who does it honestly benefit?  The lessons that we are writing about the local tribes will teach students about the people that were here before them and live among them now. It will teach them about hope and resilience.  It will teach them about respect and love. No one came back to me after the lesson was taught and said anything negative.  In fact, people came and told me stories about their own histories and families or how to trace their own native heritage. This brought me joy!

I am not in the classroom this year. Instead I am working to continue to develop the American Indian lesson plans and to help bridge the gap between our native families and the local schools. The work to rebuild trust between school and tribes is precarious. We have been lied to so many times that trust does not come easily. But I cannot think of any better way for us to spread the word of our people than continuing to partner with local tribes to write these lessons for our school children. We are a strong and resilient people. It is time for the world to acknowledge us and our history!

Cindy (Rickard) Hogue (Dawnom Wintu) works to support educational and cultural opportunities for Indian youth and their families through the Shasta County Office of Education. She’s also a Councilwoman and the Executive Secretary for the Wintu Tribe of Northern California and serves as a trustee on a local school board. Hogue writes for Shasta Scout as part of our Community Voices series, which illuminates lived experiences, identities, issues or perspectives that are often misunderstood. Community Voices is supported by a grant from the North State Equity Fund. Want to share your thoughts and opinions with our readers? You can submit your writing here.

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