OLYMPIA - Testifying remotely in the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee, Jan. 18, Colville Business Council chair Rodney Cawston issued the Colville Tribes’ support for proposed legislation aimed at teaching Washington’s tribal history, culture and government across the state - while simultaneously pointing out a flaw in the current proposed bill.

In its current status, Senate Bill 5161 would require all school districts to incorporate curricula about the history, culture and government of the nearest federally recognized Indian tribe or tribes into social studies curricula by Sept. 1, 2023.

It would require the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to develop and utilize a system to monitor and report on district implementation and compliance of tribal curricula requirements.

The bill would also establish that all administrator preparation programs integrate information on tribal culture, history and government into existing programs or courses.

The proposed legislation builds off legislation passed in 2015 that required school districts to incorporate Since Time Immemorial Curriculum into social studies curricula and required school districts to work with local tribes.

While the Colville Tribes supports the bill, said Cawston, the proposed legislation fails to recognize tribes’ aboriginal and traditional homelands.

“Although now considered a single Indian tribe, we actually have 12 distinct bands from across eastern Washington, parts of Oregon and Idaho and into British Columbia,” said Cawston. “Our history predates the creation of our reservation that was originally twice the size of what it is today. In 1883, the Moses-Columbia Reservation was set aside for the Columbia, the Chelan, the Entiat and the Wenatchee Tribes. This was returned to public domain. In 1892, the Northhalf of the Colville Reservation was ceded to the United States by an act of Congress.

“The traditional homelands of our 12 tribes…covered an expanse of approximately 39 million acres. The vast aboriginal range of the Colville Tribes illustrates how limiting education to the nearest modern reservation does not truly reflect the history and culture of our region.”

Upon questioning, Cawston reiterated his point: “I can’t speak for all the tribes in the state of Washington, but I think it is important to recognize that early history and recognizing the tribes in the aboriginal territories and their homelands. The legal and political history in each tribe is very unique. It wasn’t favorable to all tribes but I think at one time there was a lot of historical documentation of where tribes once resided. If you take it from that perspective, prior to contact, prior to statehood, then it would be fairly easy to go back and recognize where those tribes came from.”

A number of others testifying in support of the bill called for a language change that would allow the bill to be applicable to “historic treaty tribes” rather than “federally recognized tribes.”

The bill is a carry over from the 2020 legislature when it was proposed by now retired Sen. John McCoy (D-38th), a Tulalip tribal member.

Committee chair Sen. Lisa Wellman (D-41st), who sponsored the bill called it “one of equity.”

“I think incorporating this learning into our social studies as part of our state will enrich all of us,” said Wellman. “It is a part of cultural competency. It is part of making sure we have an appreciation. Although we do know about the tribal compact schools, those are for many of the tribal students, but most of the tribal members live in the urban communities. Their children are in schools all over the state. Learning and appreciation more about them is going to be the next step in the time immemorial curriculum and tribal history.”

During the hearing, the bill received testimony in support from representatives of the Washington Education Association, Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, Faith Action Network, Washington Association of College for Teacher Education and the Washington State School Directors’ Association.

Additionally, representatives from 12 other tribes signed in support of the bill.

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