Native American educators call for reform after racist comments from the state’s top educator

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The Kansas Association for Native American Education in a news release Thursday evening called on the Kansas State Department of Education to work with Native people, the association, and other organizations for education reform to the benefit of all students.

As Education Commissioner Randy Watson’s racist comments about Native Americans during a Feb. 15 education conference came to light, members of the State Board of Education made plans to meet in executive session Friday. Three legislators with American Indian heritage and Gov. Laura Kelly have called on Watson to resign.

The group of Native American educators from Kansas said in the release its members were upset but not surprised. 

“We hear remarks and see imagery that frames American Indians as warlike stereotypes quite often, and our educational systems perpetuate a narrow understanding about Native people, communities and nations. We hope these remarks reveal to the larger non-Native community across Kansas that our state’s educational system could better respond to the needs of American Indian students, which include their socio-emotional health and well-being.”

The removal of American Indian mascots from schools was also necessary, the group said, because “they tend to align with the very stereotype about aggressive warlike Indians that was uttered by the commissioner.”

KANAE said Kansas students should learn about American Indians “in modern and contemporary contexts as they do with other races and ethnicities” rather than “people of the past, often in war-like contexts. Dr. Watson’s statements are a manifestation of these kinds of learning environments which are harmful to student learning. We are, and always have been, more complex than the stereotypes we’ve had to overcome in our educational systems.”

Citing the need for “curricular reform that respects and affirms Indigenous Peoples and Nations,” the group called on KSDE to create a position to oversee Indian education programming.

“Many states with Native nations within their boundaries do this to help build relationships with Native nations for the purpose of improving educational outcomes, and they also help coordinate federal programming, such as Title VI out of ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act), which is specifically designed for Native students.”

Kansas is home to four federally recognized tribes, and KANAE said all students should gain understanding in schools about the tribal sovereignty and governance of Native nations just as they learn about state, federal and local governance.

An examination of the state’s data infrastructure was also needed, the group said, to ensure American Indians are not lost in multiracial and ethnicity data “due to historical policies that prioritized assimilation of Native peoples.” They called for public reporting of student data alongside categories for students identifying as Black, Hispanic and white, rather than being categorized as “other.”

“Even though our Native students are a small percentage of the larger population, they deserve to be visible in the data and respected when decisions are being made.”

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Tricia Masenthin (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at tmasenthin (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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Native American educators call for reform after racist comments from the state’s top educator

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A professional group of Native American educators from Kansas called for reform after the state’s top educator made racist comments that were recorded on video.

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