Indigenous Peoples Month – New Jersey Education Association

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November is Indigenous Peoples Month, so let’s talk about how engaging in learning around Indigenous peoples relates to inclusive and culturally appropriate education.

Something you may be familiar with to varying degrees is a land acknowledgment statement, and it’s an increasingly common practice. What is a land recognition? It is an official statement that recognizes and respects Indigenous peoples as traditional custodians of this land and the enduring relationship that exists between Indigenous peoples and their traditional territories.

Many of the statements of acknowledgment we hear rightly include acknowledgments of work to fight not only the forced removal of indigenous peoples from the lands on which we have our schools and institutions, but also from properties built by the hands of bonded workers. (We’ve included links to readings, maps, and examples of these recognition statements in this month’s Resource QR code.)

This is fundamental to an approach to inclusive education in two of many ways: first, we have appropriated more than land, and second, histories have been erased. It is only with our joint and concerted efforts that we revise our programs, our texts and our lessons to erase the stories and contributions of the peoples who are not always obvious. The “not always obvious” is a product of settler colonialism, structural racism, hetero/cisnormativity as default positions in our educational frameworks and texts.

Additionally, we need to dig into the other term mentioned above: culturally appropriate teaching. We come to this on the basis that LGBTQIA+ communities are, in fact, a culture, much like racial, ethnic, and religious communities that have seen their culture decentered in education.

Researchers have responded to these marginalizations by developing pedagogies that incorporate student identity and classroom experiences as teaching methods. Although many terms vary, they refocus marginalized communities in the curriculum and teaching, and this is an important way in which teaching becomes inclusive.

While this is often a first step in linking cultural and heritage months with new learnings about marginalized cultures, it is important not to embed all inclusive approaches into the ‘heroes and holidays’ method. While these months are a solid way to introduce new content, they don’t inspire us to regularly engage with a culture or identity. Therefore, we also need to connect cultures and identities to our program goals. We must think BIG and take the necessary steps in our teaching, our PLCs and our school communities to explore and connect the cultures of which we have the language, fashion, art, technological advancement, and more:

  • If it is appropriate, acknowledge it and ask students why.
  • If adopted, ask what makes it important to all of us.
  • If appropriate, ask students to reflect on what we do better together.

This type of teaching allows us to connect our students to many disciplines, such as arts and objects of cultural significance, crafts and art history. We have opportunities in STEM to explore inventions that have sprung up across the world, for which we and our students do not have full knowledge of their earliest creators. We can make geographical connections when we write our own land and labor recognition for our school district.

Taking some of the valuable time we have as educators to explore these possibilities will engender better teaching practices and help us build cultural competence in our educational spaces. These practices will help us be more culturally sensitive with all of our communities and cultures in the classroom.

We invite you to join your colleagues at the NJEA convention and check out the inclusive education workshops and representative curriculum throughout the convention and especially the materials and resources (BOOKS! Lots of BOOKS!) which will be available on Main Street.

Want to share your ideas? Email [email protected]

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