Indigenous People’s Month 

November is Indigenous People’s Month, so let’s talk about how participating in the learning around Indigenous peoples connects to inclusive and culturally responsive education.  

Something you may have varying degrees of familiarity with is a land acknowledgement statement, and it is a practice increasing in frequency. What is a land acknowledgment? It’s a formal statement that recognizes and respects Indigenous Peoples as traditional stewards of this land and the enduring relationship that exists between Indigenous Peoples and their traditional territories.  

Many of the acknowledgment statements we hear rightfully include labor acknowledgements to address not only forced removal of Indigenous Peoples from the lands on which we have our schools and institutions, but of the properties built by the hands of enslaved laborers. (We have included links to readings, maps, and examples of these acknowledgement statements in this month’s resource QR code.) 

This is fundamental to an approach to inclusive education in two of many ways: one, that we have appropriated more than land, and two, that histories have been erased. Only with our joint concerted efforts do we review our curricula, texts, and lessons for the erasure of peoples’ histories and contributions that are not always evident. The “not always evident” is a product of settler colonialism, of structural racism, of hetero/cisnormativity as default positions within our educational frameworks and texts.  

Further, we need to dig into the other term referenced above: culturally responsive teaching. We come to this from the position that LGBTQIA+ communities are, in fact, a culture, as are racial, ethnic, and religiously connected communities that have seen their culture de-centered in education.  

Scholars have responded to these marginalizations by developing pedagogies that incorporate students’ identities and lived experiences in the classroom as instructional methods. While a lot of the terms vary, they re-center marginalized communities in curriculum and instruction, and that is one big means by which instruction becomes inclusive. 

While it is often a first step to connect cultural and heritage months to new learning about marginalized cultures, it is important to not embed the entirety of inclusive approaches in the “heroes and holidays” method. Even though such months are a solid way to introduce new content, they do not move us to engaging with any culture or identity regularly. Therefore, we must also connect cultures and identities to the objectives of our curriculum. We must think BIG and take the necessary steps in our teaching, our PLCs, and our school communities to explore and connect cultures from which we have language, fashion, art, technological advancement, and more: 

  •  If appropriated, acknowledge it and ask students why. 
  •  If adopted, ask what makes it important to all of us. 
  •  If adapted, ask students to consider what we do better together.  

This kind of teaching allows us to connect our students to many disciplines, such as the arts and culturally important objects, crafts and art histories. We have opportunities in STEM to explore inventions that originated across the globe—for many of which we and our students don’t have full knowledge of their first creators. We can make geographic connections when we write our very own land and labor acknowledgment for our school district.  

Taking some of the precious time we have as educators to explore these possibilities will engender better teaching practices and aid us in expanding cultural competency in our education spaces. These practices will help us to be more culturally responsive with all our communities and cultures in the classroom. 

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

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