Tensions arise over Native American curriculum in Connecticut schools
Connecticut’s major tribes formed a drum circle Wednesday morning to commemorate a major milestone. The state is launching a Native American history curriculum in public schools. But the announcement quickly grew tense over how much of the state’s early, and sometimes violent, history to teach.
Starting in January 2024, social studies classes in grades K-12 must include Native American studies. The mandate was part of the 2021 state budget package.
On Wednesday morning, the state Department of Education and the state’s five recognized tribal nations partnered on creating the new curriculum.
"Now, all Connecticut students can learn about our roots through the voices of our people, not through the colonizers' voice, but through the voices that have been left out,” said Beth Regan, vice chair of the Mohegan Tribe of Elders.
The Mohegan Tribe already developed a model curriculum called the Educators Project. Regan, a longtime teacher, said several school districts already use it.
The name “Connecticut” comes from an Algonquin word meaning “long river.”
But Wednesday’s event was overshadowed when reporters asked how controversial topics like the Pequot Massacre of 1637 should be taught. The violent attack nearly wiped out the Mashantucket Pequots; most survivors were forced out of Connecticut or into slavery. One year later, the Treaty of Hartford outlawed the Pequot name, banned new settlements and seized all of the tribe’s lands.
During Wednesday’s news conference, former Mashantucket Pequot tribal chair Michael Thomas was blunt.
"Although you obviously can't teach this to children in third or fourth grade, the Treaty of Hartford also represents one of the very few documented cases of state-sanctioned genocide,” he said.
The massacre and its leader, Capt. John Mason, are both enshrined at the state Capitol. Last year, the Capitol Preservation and Restoration Commission could not reach a consensus on removing the statue, allowing it to stay. The statue’s fate now rests with top legislators.
At Wednesday’s event, Gov. Ned Lamont was non-committal.
"I don't really know,” he said. “I mean, I could tell you, you could probably point to a lot of those statues you point to a lot of history and point to a lot of murals that are incredibly offensive. The question is are they also learning moments?"
It's not just Native American history. Connecticut schools must now offer a Black and Latino studies elective, and a new Asian American and Pacific Islander curriculum will launch in 2025.
All are potential land mines in these politically divided times.
"Our version of history – our story – it's just our story,” said Wayne Reels, the Mashantucket Pequot director of cultural resources. “It's the way we see it."
The five tribes will collaborate with state education leaders over the next few months. CSDE said the Native American curriculum should be released by June of 2023. The public will be able to view the materials online beforehand.