Back when Assemblywoman Monique Limón served on the school board in Santa Barbara, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians donated an encyclopedia-style dictionary to the local schools about their language and culture.
Limón, born and raised in Santa Barbara, was mesmerized when she turned the pages, learning so much about her community she never knew. Such information may be lacking in public schools, where critics say lessons often don’t include accurate information about the origins and history of native tribes. Limón thinks that should change.
The Democratic legislator is shepherding AB 738, which would require a model curriculum in Native American studies, written with the input of Native Americans, that schools could use as a guide for grades 9 through 12. It’s part of a larger effort to educate California’s students a most “holistic representation of history.”
Her bill has advanced through the Legislature at a time when much as the United States is grappling with how it should remember its history. The presence and possible removal of Confederate statues and memorials in the South has ignited fiery debate in other states. In California, politicians have denounced recent white supremacist rallies Virginia and elsewhere, condemning them as gatherings of racism and hate.
“We’ve had a really tough month in our country,” Limón said. “This tough month with race relations gives us the opportunity to say ‘We have to have these conversations. We have to be inclusive of history.’ ”
California has its own Civil War history, but it also has a painful colonization history—one academics believe ought to be told more in schools. It’s a tale of a state founded by white colonists who wiped out much of the Native American population by bringing disease, forcing relocation, imposing starvation, and carrying out what its more severe critics describe as a forgotten, state-sanctioned genocide of a people.
And it’s one that many Californians haven’t heard—at least not the details or the extent of the state’s role as the “primary architect of annihilation,” says Benjamin Madley, an associate professor at the University of California, Los Angeles and the author of “An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873.”
“It’s a largely forgotten history that people are now being forced to come to grips with,” Madley said.