Rethinking Native California Curriculum

For centuries, the history and understanding of Indigenous peoples have been told through the colonial lens. Social studies textbooks, curriculum, and literature examine our cultures through the eyes of explorers, anthropologists, archaeologists, ethnologists, linguists, scientists and historians. Their observations and interpretations are regarded as authoritative — they are the “experts” on who we are, where we come from, and what we believe in. With this foundation, non-Native authors and publishers continue to produce educational resources and materials that contain misinformation, perpetuate stereotypes, or present sanitized, one-sided views on historical events. In addition to history and social studies, the cultural appropriation of our traditions and our stories are prevalent in art lessons, language arts curriculum, and children’s literature. We continue to be objects of study — without our voice and our perspective, our Native cultures and histories continue to be misunderstood, misinterpreted and disrespected. It is time that we are recognized as the primary sources of our own cultures and histories.

The passing of Assembly Bill 1703 (California Indian Education Act), Assembly Bill 101 (Ethnic Studies Requirement), and the creation of the Native American Studies Model Curriculum Task Force are all steps in the right direction. As teachers and educators reexamine their lessons and materials to reflect a more multi-dimensional history, it is essential that they also reconsider sources of information. The enslavement, genocide, and forced assimilation practices that began with the Spanish missions, accelerated with the Gold Rush, and continued through California statehood are dark moments in California history. To deny this reality is to deny the truth of our shared history. California Indians today are descendants of survivors. To fully understand our cultures, as well as our struggles and issues of today, it is essential that the Native voices of our communities become an essential part of the narrative. It is our responsibility as educators, both Native and non-Native, to come together and see this through.

—Nichelle Garcia and Dessa Drake, Winnemem Wintu Run4Salmon Educators

Who We Are

For millennia, the Winnemem Wintu Tribe has inhabited the once salmon-rich territory south of Buliyum Puyuuk (Mt. Shasta), now known as the McCloud River watershed. The Winnemem have worked to preserve their culture and lifeways and are currently fighting to restore their salmon runs and protect water. The tribe has continued their traditional form of governance under the leadership of Chief Caleen Sisk, who is the fifth chief of an unbroken leadership since European contact in the 19th century. Though not officially recognized by the federal government, the tribe strives to preserve its native language, practice its religion and traditional healing methods, and protect its sacred sites and burial grounds from encroachment by governments, industry and tourists.

The Sacred Land Film Project of Earth Island Institute produces media and educational materials—films, curricula, photographs, articles and Web content—to deepen public understanding of sacred places, indigenous cultures and environmental justice. Since 1984, our mission has been to use film, journalism and education to rekindle reverence for land, increase respect for cultural diversity, stimulate dialogue about connections between nature and culture, and help protect sacred lands and diverse spiritual practices. Currently in distribution: our award-winning PBS documentary films, In the Light of Reverence (2001) and the four-part series, Standing on Sacred Ground (2014).

How this curriculum was developed

The Run4Salmon Curriculum is a collaborative effort between the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, educators, filmmakers, and journalists. Research and content were developed by Chief Caleen Sisk, Jessica Abbe with Toby McLeod, Dessa Drake, Nichelle Garcia, Will Doolittle, and Marc Dadigan. Gary Mulcahy and Cat Wilder created the web pages. Thanks to Misa Joo, Ricardo Torres and Pua Case.