One of the many things that makes Montana unique is Article X, Section 1(2) of our Constitution which says that our state recognizes the distinct and unique cultural heritage of American Indians and is committed in its educational goals to the preservation of their culture.
Subsequent pieces of legislation have articulated that schools integrate culturally responsive curriculum into all subjects and allocated funding to assist them. Indian Education for All — commonly known as IEFA — integration has helped make our state the enriching place we all know it to be as well as the standard bearer for other states as they’ve increasingly embraced its importance in education. The Office of Public Instruction has been tasked with helping our state realize this vision.
As part of the OPI’s “Montana Learn” initiative to rethink how students are learning, and with leadership from the Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen, we have worked with tribal education leaders, elders, education professionals and other experts to provide teachers with standards-aligned deliverables that enhance student learning. Among these are the Essential Understandings Regarding Montana American Indians, an IEFA implementation framework, professional development events and subject-specific curriculum resources and guides. This helps Montana’s young people better understand and appreciate their historical and contemporary contributions to our great state.
IEFA offers students a wonderful opportunity to develop the requisite skills and abilities for personal, educational and career success in the 21st Century. Robust IEFA integration helps students develop critical thinking skills and improve their written and oral communication. Practicing analyzation of events from different informational sources and viewpoints in the formulation of individual beliefs and opinions helps students become thoughtful, principled citizens. For American Indian students, IEFA integration brings relevance to their schooling and helps them feel recognized and valued for who they are and what they have to offer, increasing their chances of academic and career success.
Recently, a showcase event was held in the Capitol Rotunda, providing legislators and the public an opportunity to see examples of the great IEFA work being done in schools across Montana. On March 2 and 3, the OPI will host over 150 educators from across the state at Carroll College for the annual IEFA Best Practices Conference. We continue to develop and refine instructional materials and participate in meaningful conversations around educational standards and practices so that all Montana students appreciate the historical and cultural richness of our state’s past, possess the tools to navigate the challenges of today, and believe in the promise of the future.
The OPI urges all Montana schools to provide their students with the opportunity to experience Indian Education for All.
Zach Hawkins is Indian Education for All unit director; Dylan Huisken is the 2019 Montana Teacher of the Year