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Oklahoma official says American Indian culture should be taught

American Indian culture should be taught on a regular basis in Oklahoma classrooms, state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi told a group of tribal educators and officials meeting Monday in Norman.
By The Associated Press Published: May 3, 2011

Jerry Bread, the outreach coordinator for OU's Native American Studies Program, said conference organizers didn't ask Barresi to speak directly about Indian education but that “it's about time” the state recognized the importance of doing so.

Quinton Roman Nose, of Watonga, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes and the president-elect of the National Indian Education Association, said only a few other states have taken significant steps to incorporate tribal culture into the classroom.

“There's a lot of misunderstanding between the tribes and the state,” Roman Nose said, describing the relationship as “adversarial. If they … would teach the concept of tribal sovereignty in public schools, just think how much further along that relationship would be.”

Jacob Tsotigh, the technical assistance coordinator with the Mid-Continent Comprehensive Center at OU, said tribal educators feared the Indian education position “would be eliminated or absorbed in another area, so I'm encouraged she wants to maintain it, to add to it, and then to add depth is something we haven't had.”

Indian ancestry

More than three dozen federally recognized tribes have their headquarters in Oklahoma. More than 320,000 people in Oklahoma — 8.5 percent of the state's population — identified themselves solely as Indians on the 2010 U.S. Census. When mixed-race people are included, more than 12 percent of Oklahomans claim Indian ancestry.

It's important for tribal officials to engage educational and political leaders if there is to be progress in educating Indian students, said Mary Jean Oatman-Wak Wak, director of Indian education for the Idaho Department of Education and the current president of the NIEA.