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A watered-down bill was introduced in the Michigan senate on March 15 that “strongly encourages” local school districts to teach Native boarding school history, instead of directing the Department of Education to make changes to the state-wide curriculum.  

This updates a previous bill introduced in February meant to ensure that accurate history about Native boarding schools was taught in grades 8-12. That bill was pulled and the new bill, SB962, was reintroduced just a month later.

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These changes were made "per recommendations" received by the Department of Education, a source in State Senator Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City) told Native News Online. Schmidt, who introduced both bills, claimed in a statement to Native News Online that the intent is the same: to make sure that accurate Native history is taught. 

Both Schmidt and the bill’s co-sponsor, Senator Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), citizen of Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa, say the “recommendation” bill reflects their commitment to sharing the knowledge of Native boarding schools.

“What Senator Schmidt and I are trying to get done is to make sure that students in Michigan learn about the horrific history of the Indian boarding schools here in Michigan, and learn about how recently some of these atrocities occurred,” Irwin told Native News Online. 

There is nothing in the new bill that will guarantee anything about Indian boarding schools will be taught. Missing from the bill is any language that would ensure that school districts teach Indian boarding school history. 

The bill has been stuck in committee since March and is not expected to go anywhere. 

Only 12 states currently mandate that content regarding Indigenous history should be taught in grades K through 12. Wisconsin became one of them in 1989 when the Wisconsin state legislature passed Wisconsin Act 31, or American Indian Studies in Wisconsin. 

Act 31 requires that all public school districts teach the history, culture, and tribal sovereignty of the eleven federally-recognized tribes that are located in Wisconsin to grades 4th through 12th. On top of that, teachers must receive lessons in the study of minority group relations, including instruction in the history, culture, and tribal sovereignty of the federally recognized tribes and bands located in this state in order to receive a teaching license. However, there is no standardization for what qualifies as a Native American history, culture, or tribal sovereignty teaching credential.

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These stories must be heard.

This May, we are highlighting our coverage of Indian boarding schools and their generational impact on Native families and Native communities. Giving survivors of boarding schools and their descendants the opportunity to share their stories is an important step toward healing — not just because they are speaking, but because they are being heard. Their stories must be heard. Help our efforts to make sure Native stories and Native voices are heard in 2024. Please consider a recurring donation to help fund our ongoing coverage of Indian boarding schools. Donate to Native News Online today and support independent Indigenous-centered journalism. Thank you.

About The Author
Neely Bardwell
Author: Neely BardwellEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Neely Bardwell (descendant of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indian) is a staff reporter for Native News Online. Bardwell is also a student at Michigan State University where she is majoring in policy and minoring in Native American studies.