In this episode of Capitol Insider, Julian Guerrero Jr., the director of American Indian Education in Oklahoma, speaks with KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley about how the state collaborates with tribal nations on education. Guerrero discusses strengthening tribal identities in the classroom and incorporating indigenous knowledge into state standards.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and elections. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol News Director Shawn Ashley. Our guest is Julian Guererro Jr., the director of American Indian Education at the State Department of Education. Thanks for joining us.
Julian Guerrero Jr.: Thank you.
Shawn Ashley: Julian, Native American tribes have a significant presence in Oklahoma. There are thirty nine federally recognized sovereign nations in the state. What is the role of your department in Oklahoma?
Guerrero Jr.: So in Oklahoma it's to practically facilitate better partnership with our tribal nations throughout Oklahoma. Now, I don't mean to correct you, but 38 federally recognized tribes but one state recognized, so for a total of 39 tribal nations. Where states and schools can help support Native American students in terms of their identity is very important. That's a challenge. Having robust curriculum...Having robust ways to partner with tribal nations is another challenge.
Ashley: How does your office go about promoting the identity of Native American students in Oklahoma?
Guerrero Jr.: We do it in many ways. Making sure that Native students are not categorized as pan-Indian. That, you know, one just to be Native American is not a general identity. There is a more sub-identity to that, a specific citizenship to an enrolled tribe. So you know just because I am Cherokee, or just because I'm Comanche, or just because I'm Cheyenne and Arapaho, doesn't mean that I belong to all what it means to be Native. I do have a specific identity. So, a lot of what we see is there are tons of resources out there for school districts, teachers, parents to help support Native students in terms of strengthening their identity. But we don't see it in a collective area or space that is easily digitally accessible, easily readable, attainable. So, you know, the role that the state department of plays and specifically the office of American Indian Education can play is to create that space.
Pryor: In terms of curriculum, how is the state department expanding education that's about more than just history?
Guerrero Jr.: So in terms of expanding beyond history that's so critical. Expanding into the mathematics the sciences, the engineering, the health...There were, there are indigenous ways of knowing that apply to multiple disciplines. There were different indigenous ways of knowing in the mathematics and the sciences. And it's so important that the role that this office can play is making sure that indigenous ways of knowing are translated and transferred and put into standards, at least signified in standards. And we are already doing that sort of work now. Our most recent example is the social studies revision process that is going on. We just finished a focus group which we brought in tribal leaders, tribal educators, tribal parents. And it's not just social studies. We're also doing a vision on music and visual arts standards.
Ashley: The state Department of Education is receiving a grant which will help your office expand. What will you be doing as a result of that grant?
Guerrero Jr.: Well that grant is specifically targeted to increase American Indian and Alaska Native college and career readiness. So we're targeting ninth through 12th graders, and building a state model for how local school districts can better increase college career readiness for American Indian students across the state.
Pryor: Julian, a Sovereign Community Charter School has been approved in Oklahoma City. Do you see that as a positive development?
Guerrero Jr.: Absolutely. The Sovereign Community's School is the first Native charter that is going to be in the state of Oklahoma, other than the Cherokee Nation's immersion school. That particular approach probably streamlines the ability for a tribal nation to really invest, so that what that means is that a charter school might be pretty aggressive to go get those funds or donations from tribal nations.
Ashley: We're speaking no November 16, Oklahoma's Statehood Day. As many people celebrate the birth of the state in 1907, what should we know about the American Indian perspective on the formation of the state of Oklahoma?
Guerrero Jr.: The story of the American Indian is a story of survival, but it's also a story of making an impressionable mark on statehood for Oklahoma. Before statehood, there may perhaps have been a State of Sequoyah. We don't see that, of course, in reality today. But we need to be having robust conversation around that. And, you know, in Oklahoma tribal nations are key economic capitals across our state, and they support our rural communities.
Pryor: Julian Guerrero Jr., Director of American Indian Education at the State Department of Education, thank you for joining us.
Guerrero Jr.: Thank you.
Pryor: That's Capitol insider. Find us online at KGOU.org and ecapitol.net and follow us on Twitter @kgounews. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.
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