Incorporating Culture Into Curriculum Is Easy and Essential

ErichThis post is was written by Dr. Erich Longie, Senior Cultural Consultant for 7 Generation Games. Erich is part of the founding team of 7 Generation Games and oversees our cultural staff to ensure all cultural content is vetted and historically and culturally accurate. He is a long-time educator – having taught at every level from elementary school to college – and an enrolled member of the Spirit Lake Dakota.

A couple of years ago at a conference, I showed the ethics course I mentioned in my last post to the principal at Tate Topa Tribal School. A few of months later, this principal asked me to teach The History and Culture of the Spirit Lake Oyate to the fifth and sixth graders at Tate Tribal School.

It was while teaching these fifth and sixth graders that I realized how helpful incorporating our traditional values was in addressing student behavior problems.

The next year, I begin to substitute teaching at the tribal school. I looked for ways to incorporate my knowledge of our values and customs into the subject areas. It is a lot easier than people may think, which makes me wonder why we don’t teach more culture in our schools.

Although there is plenty of research showing the benefits that come when Native American students learn about their culture, there are few successful tribal cultural programs in Indian Country. This begs the question: Why than haven’t more tribal schools fully embraced culture?

3328 Travois - Child ridingIn my opinion, the reason is quite simple. Most educators have the impression that teaching culture is a huge complicated undertaking that will distract students from mastering the core subject.

Actually, nothing can be further from the truth. If done right, incorporating a tribe’s values and culture knowledge into the curriculum does not require deviating from the normal schedule, taking time from the core subjects, nor does it distract from student learning.

In fact it will have quite the opposite effect, incorporating culture into the classroom will enhance student learning, boost self-esteem, and help address behavior problems. And, this will help student when it come to concentrating on math and other subjects.

I have taught in every grade from kindergarten to 8th grade. I substitute taught in the physical education and health areas as well as filled in for the Dakota language teachers. This teaching experience opened my eyes to the problems associated with incorporating Native American culture into school curricula. Drawing from that experience, I can tell you that culture can be successfully incorporated in classrooms.

When I started researching our traditional values, I may have had a simplistic view of them. I thought they were mainly buzzwords used by writers to romanticize us. After several years of research, I realize there are both simple and complicated. I say simple, because because you either are honest or you’re not, you’re either courageous or you’re are not, you either hang in there when the going gets rough or you give up, you are generous or you are either greedy/stingy.

But values are also very complicated because everything we do – every action we take, our way of behaving – is a reflection of whether or not you process those values.

What I didn’t expect was how much I would learn about myself as I researched our traditional values. I used this knowledge to assess and improve my own character. It influenced my behavior in the meetings, in conversations, in decision-making, and other areas of my professional and personal life. In many ways, it made my easier. I even wrote a blog titled “Dakota Values bring me a satisfaction with my life that I could not find any where else.” I drew from those values when other people came to me for advice.

Many Native American children are going to have a hard life when they become adults unless we instill in them the proper values.

Turtle Mountain Playing GameIt is not always our brightest and smartest who go off to college or get a job and make a successful career out it. It will be the ones who understand it is it up to them to take care of themselves and make their own decision.

The future rests with the ones who learn to cooperate with other so they can they can achieve something that they cannot be achieved independently. The ones who have the and continually examine there live and have the self-honesty it improve it. And in my view, these individuals will be the children know who they are, where they came form, which were taught our traditional values of courage, honesty, perseverance and generosity.

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