California Indian Education Act Roundtable is first step toward implementation

From left, Assemblymember James C. Ramos, students So’a Nelson, Rhianna Salgado and Su’la Arviso, and Soboba Tribal Chairman Isaiah Vivanco at the California Indian Education Act Roundtable, Dec. 12. Valley News/Diane A. Rhodes photo

Tribal leaders and members, students, education experts and school representatives gathered at the Soboba Casino Resort Event Center Dec. 12 to discuss the next steps needed to implement the California Indian Education Act. Assembly Bill 1703, a measure approved by Gov. Gavin Newsom, was authored by Assemblymember James C. Ramos to encourage school districts, county offices of education and charter schools to form California Indian Education Task Forces with Tribes local to their region, or historically located in their region.

Ramos, the first and only California Native American serving in the state’s legislature, is a lifelong member and former Chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians in Highland. A longstanding friendship with Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians’ Chairman Isaiah Vivanco, and strong partnership between the two Tribes, led Ramos to having Soboba host the first of many roundtable discussions to help implement AB 1703.

Upon signing the legislation in September, Newsom stated, “As we lift up the rich history and contributions of California’s diverse Tribal communities today, the state recommits to building on the strides we have made to redress historical wrongs and help empower Native communities.”

In addition to encouraging the formation of California Indian Education Task Forces, AB 1703 also encourages Task Force members to develop high quality curricular materials, including the correct and proper depictions of Native Americans; allows Task Forces to submit curricular materials to be forwarded to the county offices of education for inclusion in model curriculum; and requires the California Department of Education to submit an annual report to the Assembly and Senate education committees based on findings of the Task Forces and make recommendations to narrow the achievement gap, including what, if any, obstacles are encountered and what strategies are being developed to deal with the challenges.

After an opening blessing from Wayne Nelson, Vivanco welcomed invited guests that included panelists Riverside Unified School District Assistant Superintendent Jacqueline Perez, San Bernardino County Assistant Superintendent of Education Support Services Miki Inbody, San Jacinto High School students Rhianna Salgado and Su’la Arviso, Cahuilla Band of Indians Chairman Daniel Salgado, Assemblymember James C. Ramos, Soboba Vice Chairwoman Geneva Mojado and Riverside County Superintendent of Schools Edwin Gomez. California Superintendent of Public Instruction Deputy Superintendent Nancy Kim Portillo and San Manuel Band of Mission Indians

Vice Chairman Jonathan Hernandez Jr. attended virtually.

Vivanco explained that it has been a two-year battle for this bill to endure the Legislative process so it could be put on the governor’s desk for approval. He thanked Ramos for all his time and efforts to see it through and for all he is doing at the capitol to make a difference in the lives of Native Americans throughout the state.

Ramos said AB 1703 is meant to create a voice for the local Indian people. “Today is the implementation of discussion of how we’re going to implement and work with the school districts in our area and find those that truly want to work with our people,” he said. “This is an exciting and long-awaited step in creating a long-term, sustainable foundation to improve the instruction of California Native American history.”

He said the bill will also improve educational opportunities for children by strengthening parent and school ties and creating a better understanding and respect of California Indian culture, diversity and history.

“It’s that knowledge and history that needs to be shared with school districts so that it can be part of an ingrained curriculum where it’s in the textbooks and being taught to every student within the state of California,” Ramos said. “Without at least a basic and accurate knowledge of Native American history and contributions to the state and nation, it becomes too easy to believe the stereotypes that are out there and that leads to disrespect to our culture and to our ancestors.”

He said that AB 1703 will create outcomes that will be good for both Native American and non-Native American students because when learning about the state’s history it has to begin with learning about California’s First People. He encourages local education agencies to work with local Tribes to form California Indian Education Task Forces.

“This bill, and today’s roundtable, is meant to start the dialogue that hopefully leads to a better understanding of who we are,” Ramos said.

When AB 1703 was being considered for passage, members of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians and the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, including many young students, appeared on the Assembly floor in Sacramento to testify in support of the bill. Mojado said she had the honor of providing a two-minute testimonial, which she read at the roundtable event.

She shared that when she was in fourth grade, the class was taught about the Spanish missionaries who came to “rescue and reform” the Native Americans in California. “They did not teach the true and accurate account of the harsh reality of what had occurred to the Indian people,” she read. “Whether or not the truth is harsh, the truth needs to be told and by the California Indian Tribes who have inherited the rich history and culture.”

Mojado explained that the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians has a very good working relationship with San Jacinto and Hemet unified school districts and that in the past two years, SJUSD developed a Native American Parent Advisory Council that has enabled a bridge to be built between district staff and the parents and students.

“We have quarterly meetings where parents can share their opinions,” she said. “We at Soboba want to help out in any way we can if anyone needs help with their school districts in developing a similar type of council.”

Hernandez also joined a contingent of youths to Sacramento, including some of San Manuel Band of Mission Indians’ elected Youth Council members. He said passage of AB 1703 is a critical and positive step forward that helps to ensure future generations don’t share the same pain Native people have experienced because “the truth about our unique cultures, language and traditions and the factual former atrocities we have experienced” were eliminated from their classrooms.

Chairman Salgado said, “Tribes are depicted in history books as something of the past, but we have recent history too,” Hernandez said. “We’re here now and we’re involved. It’s our inherent right to tell our story. If it’s told in the true light, our future will be much brighter.”

Ramos said the way to correct how California Indian history is being taught in the schools is by moving forward and correcting it. “The reason we do what we do is for the youth who continue to look to us for guidance,” he said.

Su’la Arviso, from Soboba, is a senior at San Jacinto High and said she was in first grade the first time someone asked her if she lived in a teepee. By the time she was in fifth grade, she co-founded the Four Directions Native American club with her cousins, most notably Ciara Ramos, at Estudillo Elementary School campus in San Jacinto as a way to help educate her classmates about her culture. When she reached high school and her ethnic studies class had a Native American unit, she was thankful that her teacher asked her to share her family’s personal experiences with her class.

“This bill will not only help clear up the misconceptions, but it will also provide a better understanding of who we are and where we come from,” she said. “And hopefully Native American youth in the future will have a better chance of not getting asked those questions we were asked.”

Rhianna Salgado is a member of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians and the Cahuilla Band of Indians in Anza, an area whose schools are within the Hemet Unified School District’s boundaries. More than 10% of the students in those schools are Native American. HUSD Superintendent Christi Barrett was at the roundtable meeting to show support.

“I’m thankful for having been given this platform where our voices can be heard,” Rhianna said. “We all have our own identity, and we shouldn’t be lumped into a blanketed stereotype.”

Perez said RUSD has already updated its resources and made other changes but realizes this is an ongoing process. Inbody said she was impressed with the “courageous and influential voices from our youth.” She said the goal for San Bernardino County is to support its 33 school districts while elevating the intent of AB 1703. Gomez said he also believes there has to be a local voice and wants to help cultivate the voices of the 1,700 Native American students in Riverside County and believes that starts with the leaders at San Jacinto and Hemet unified school districts.

“This bill attempts to restore, reinstigate and revalidate the humanity of the people of this region and this is why the Riverside County Office of Education is completely devoted and committed to the cause of debunking the stereotypes and debunking the mythology that involves our Native American people,” Gomez said.

Ramos thanked the panelists for their input, especially the young students. He then invited public comments, both in person and virtually, to share any thoughts they had about the issues at hand.

Tribal members from throughout the region shared similar comments about how each Tribe has a different history and as educators and parents they need to ensure that the local school districts are creating task forces to help implement the California Indian Education Act. It is seen as the only way to continue the momentum of truth in Native American history due to cultural unawareness.

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