Educators in Chiloquin and the Klamath County School District share their views on the implementation of Senate Bill 13

SB13 was enacted in 2017, directing the Oregon Department of Education to create a K-12 Native American Curriculum

Senate Bill 13 was enacted by the Oregon Legislature in 2017 to create a K-12 Native American Curriculum for inclusion in public schools and provide professional development for educators. The law also allocates funds to each of the nine federally recognized tribes in Oregon to “create individual place-based curriculum,” as the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) states on its website page for American Indian/Alaska Native Education.

The lesson plans were the result of collaborative processes with the nine tribes and the ODE. Now, seven years after SB13 was introduced, schools have fully integrated the curriculum in the classrooms for grades 4, 5, 8, and 10 in Health, English, Language Arts, Math, Social Sciences, and Science classes. The Klamath Tribes News spoke to Klamath County School District educators and teachers at Chiloquin High School about the program.

The Klamath County School District began fully implementing the curriculum in the 2020-21 school year. Torina Case, who is a Klamath Tribal Member, is the Title VI Coordinator for Native American Education in the Klamath County School District. Jeff Bullock is the Director of School Improvement, Secondary Programs, and Tribal Liaison. They spoke with the Klamath Tribes News at the District Office.

Bullock said many of his responsibilities are specific to secondary schools in grades seven through 12, and there’s an elementary curriculum director who oversees kindergarten through sixth grade.

Both Case and Bullock expressed satisfaction with the SB13 curriculum and the progress made in applying it in classroom lesson plans in the last two years. “I think it’s going good,” said Case. “The teachers like it. They like the videos, and they like the curriculum.”

“I think when we first started, we talked to our Title VI parent committee and let them know that this was happening,” Bullock added. “And if they had feedback. I heard in that first year, “Yes, we saw the lesson; we heard the lesson; we liked it. But every year, when I talk to teachers and administrators about it, it’s a positive experience across the board.”

Bullock said he also works with new teachers and conducts a short training about the Klamath Tribes and the Tribes’ history and highlights. “I’ve gotten materials directly from the Tribes for that,” he said “I also show the video that’s on the SB13 website on boarding schools. And so, I share with all of our new teachers every year, that experience and that history through the video. And then we have a brief discussion about how recent in time that is and how that might impact generational trauma for our students as they try to interact with the public school system. In the families and the tribes, there’s fairly recent history of boarding schools and interactions with quote-unquote educators that, for the most part, was highly negative. So, letting them be aware of that in our community, I use that lesson in that way.”

As for the school district’s involvement in drafting an outline for the SB13 curriculum, Bullock said it wasn’t that involved. He said they relied more on lessons submitted by the nine tribes to the ODE and then took those lessons from the individual tribes and had them reviewed by the nine tribes collectively. “Lessons that passed muster that were approved by that consortium of the nine tribes are then added to the SB13 website,” he said. “Districts are asked to look at that website and choose lessons that have been approved through that process to meet the minimum requirements.”

Bullock said the lessons cover five areas: English, math, science, social studies, and a health and nutrition lesson at the required grade levels. The school district got clearance from ODE for a waiver to teach the curriculum in high school in the classes that teachers felt were best suited for the specific material. He explained that the curriculum, as administered in all grades, is decided on by a team of district-wide teachers for each class study.

“The team comes together, the grade level team, and they decide what lesson they’re going to teach for the year, and then what week they’re going to do it, and they report that to me,” he explained. “And then, for our secondary schools, our teams come together as a district-wide team in the English Department and say, ‘Okay, what lesson are we going to teach to the eighth grade? What lesson are we going to teach in high school and the math department; the same in the science department and the social studies and the Health Department. Principals have to sign off that they’re aware that these lessons were taught in alignment with what PLC or the Department agreed to.”  

Klamath County has one of the largest populations of Native American students in the state. In the Klamath County School District, 458 students are identified as Native American, determined by self-identification. The number could be slightly higher – about 600 out of a total student enrollment of 7,000 students. Because of the large percentage of Native Americans in the County, Case said the SB13 curriculum is all the more important to be included in the classroom, and any changes to the curriculum must come from tribal members. “I mean, the tribe put it together,” she said. “If they want to change it, they can change it. We don’t change it. The tribe had a committee of Parent Council Members, Education Committee, and Education Director Julie Bettles (of the Klamath Tribes), and they developed it.

The intent of the SB13 curriculum is not based solely on teaching Native American history and culture, but on teaching content through cultural means, Bullock said. For example, in a math class, problems and situations will be applied using a cultural perspective or culturally relevant perspective to Native American students. “I’ve seen one where they’re talking about planning for a budget,” he said. “And they’re taking a trip around the state, and they’re visiting different tribes, maybe different pow-wows, different museums. And they plan their budget and time and mileage – how much gas you are going to use as you go and visit the centers of the nine federal tribes – things like that. So, you’re doing math, but you’re doing it in connection with tribal information, Native American information.”

At Chiloquin Junior/Senior High School, science teacher Alex Gonyaw, formerly a fisheries biologist at the Klamath Tribes Ambodat Department, was in the process of teaching his first Native American lesson plan. This reporter sat in on an eighth-grade class in which a one-hour lesson was being conducted utilizing a video on the history and current status of the endangered c’waam and koptu suckers, fish that were once a staple of the Klamath Tribes’ first foods but now endangered and facing extinction.

“The curriculum is a very nice mixture of aspects of cultural diversity, historical information, and some Western science, but it mostly focuses on traditional ecological knowledge,” Gonyaw said during a class break. “The lesson is presented in two separate classes, and the second half of the lesson will focus on the first salmon ceremony and some additional activities.”

Gonyaw teaches the SB13 lesson once a year in his class but would like to see more Native American lessons included in the curriculum. “Given that half of our student population is indigenous, there should be more indigenous components here, I believe,” he said. “They should have much more emphasis on their voice.”

Noramah Neu teaches Social Studies to seventh, eighth, and twelfth graders at Chiloquin High School, and Valli Lonner is the Vice Principal at the school. They sat down for an interview in Neu’s classroom during her free time to offer their perspective on SB13. Like Gonyaw, Neu is in her first year as a teacher in Chiloquin; she taught Native American lessons for three weeks every day for the eighth-grade class and a Native American legal lesson for her tenth-grade class. “That one took me two to three weeks to work through the material,” Neu said. “It was much more based on the legal aspects of how the tribes have interacted with the U.S. federal government. And so, it had, I can’t remember how many, like 10 or 12 different legal cases from the mid-1800s to the present day. And so, it had these legal cases, and they had to study a case, see what it was about, and understand how that impacted the tribes. It was very much a legal base kind of lesson.”

When asked how the Native American students in her classes responded to SB13 lesson plans, Neu confessed that it was a mixed reception, depending on the lesson plan and grade level. “I think they’re fine to study their history,” she said. “And it’s not everybody’s history because in the room, there’s 60 percent (Native American). The sophomores, I think they groaned under the weight of the legalese. But learning about it, they took it in stride, and we’re fine. The eighth graders had just finished about four weeks of Lewis and Clark, and in that Lewis and Clark lesson, I had each student select a tribe that Lewis and Clark had interacted with along their journey. And so, they had just done four weeks of studying tribes. And then we spent the next three weeks studying just Oregon tribes. And so maybe next time I reverse that, and they get the Oregon tribes first and then we look at all of the Lewis and Clark stuff.”

Every Friday, Neu invites a guest speaker to her twelfth-grade class, offering personal narratives about their lives from high school to the present. “I have pulled people from the tribes to come in and share their story and talk about their path from high school to adulthood and where they’re at,” she said. “And some guest speakers have been tribal, some not. Some have been from Chiloquin, a local from Chiloquin – kids who grew up here and graduated from Chiloquin High.”

Neu obtains all of the curriculum material for her SB13 lessons from the SB13 website. “I pull up the piece of the website lesson that is mine,” she said. “So, eighth grade, or tenth grade, and history have been listed there. And I click on it, and then it has materials that I then print out. So, all of those legal cases, I printed them out from this website.”

Lonner cited some of the specific lessons and topics provided for eighth graders. “There’s the tribal sovereignty side, and then there’s cultural assimilation, boarding schools, and the importance of treaties,” she said. “Within that, you’ve got multiple lessons that could be chosen.”

Although Neu was somewhat concerned about the complexities of topics presented in her Native American lessons, she said that, for the most part, the students comprehended the subject matter well, save for the legal lesson plan. “It wasn’t that they had to read through the actual document of the legalese,” she said. “It was a summary of the legal action, and so it was a summarized version. But watching them struggle through it, I still think it was a little intense.”

Given the wide scope and diversity of lessons administered through SB13, Lonner feels that the nine tribes’ curriculum has been well-thought-out. “I know that the tribes worked so hard to make sure that it was appropriate for the grade level that they had created it for,” she said. And Neu added, “I think that’s really important as a teacher. Because we are following what the tribes have created and approved. And I think it’s really important to stay within that.”