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‘Our own stories’: Connecticut tribes partner to create state’s Native American studies curriculum

Members of the Mohegan Tribe sit in a circle and lead a drum prayer before a news conference.
Ayannah Brown
Connecticut Public
Members of the Mohegan Tribe lead a drum prayer before a news conference to announce the launch of a partnership between the Connecticut State Department of Education and Connecticut’s tribal leaders on the development of a Native American studies curriculum for use in the state’s schools.

Connecticut’s Department of Education has launched a partnership to develop an inclusive Native American studies curriculum with each of the five sovereign tribal nations recognized by the state.

Tribal leaders gathered in celebration at the state Capitol on the last day of Native American Heritage Month. They called the partnership “historic,” noting that it represents “a new day” and a healing process, where tribes with complicated histories can each document their sides of the story for students.

“I did not think I would live to see the day where the Mohegan Tribe and the Pequot Tribe were working together,” said Shirley “Laughing Woman” Patrick, an elder and spiritual leader of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. Patrick was referring to the role the Mohegan Tribe played in allying with former Connecticut Gov. John Mason, who led a massacre of the Pequot Tribe in 1637 in Mystic.

“We may not ever agree with each other, but we have to be respectful of each other,” Patrick said. “We want to tell our own story, not what is already written down.”

The partnership will build on educational resources already developed by local tribes to make teaching materials available for free through the state’s online portal, GoOpenCT.

“We at Mohegan are honored to be a part of this as well,” said Beth Regan, vice chairwoman of the Mohegan Tribe Council of Elders. “We have been teaching about Mohegan for decades, but we now stand ready with our sister nations … to move forward in this direction in a collaborative way.”

Recent legislation signed by Gov. Ned Lamont mandated that school districts include Native American studies in kindergarten through 12th grade social studies courses, starting in the fall of 2023. Although the law did not require these specific curriculum materials to be taught, state officials hope the model curriculum will be available by June 2023 for school districts to consider including.

“Native American history is American history, and we are gonna teach it as such,” Lamont said.

Eastern Pequot Tribal Chairman Mitchel Ray noted that much of the source material that will inform the curriculum is available online through research started by the Yale Indian Papers Project.

“We’ll learn more about what an Eastern Pequot means … and what this land means,” Ray said. “Thank you to the legislators and thank you to Gov. Lamont for pushing this law forward, and we look forward to working with the Department of Education in moving this curriculum forward.”

Connecticut law recognizes five Indian tribes, which are Golden Hill Paugussett, Mashantucket Pequot, Mohegan, Paucatuck Eastern Pequot, and Schaghticoke. The federal government recognizes the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, and their reservations are federal reservations.

“It is part of our collective history,” said Irene Parisi, chief academic officer for the state Department of Education, “and deserves to be an integral part of our narrative and story here in Connecticut.”

Cassandra Basler is a radio reporter and editor at Connecticut Public. She has covered juvenile justice, the opioid crisis, immigration, social justice and inequity. You can find her reporting in New Haven and Fairfield counties. She previously worked at WSHU Public Radio and her work has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Here & Now.