LEWISTON — On the final day of this year’s Idaho Indian Education Summit, tribal leaders invited participants to the Nez Perce Reservation to experience place and language — two focal points of the event — firsthand.
The two-day summit held at Lewis-Clark State College explored STEM topics, introduced educators to culturally significant places along the Snake and Clearwater rivers and featured the Nez Perce’s National Historic Park.
It provided educators with an opportunity to experience and learn about the Native American way of life and bring that knowledge back to their classrooms.
As the event wrapped up at the National Historical Park Visitor Center, three Idaho educators reflected on their experience.
Cheryl Copeland drove down from Coeur d’Alene, where she works with Native American students as an Upward Bound coordinator. She came to expand her knowledge of Native American resources and culture in order to strengthen connections with her Native students.
Copeland embraces the idea of incorporating more Indigenous experiences in Idaho’s curriculum.
“It’s important for both viewpoints to be included in the curriculum, not just one or the other,” Copeland said. “That’s something that Idaho is trying to do, maybe more than some of the other areas.”
Schools should consider including more Native American history in different areas of the curriculum, she said.
“I think that you could include a lot of different Native history and culture in a lot of different things that are done in school. It just takes time and it takes knowledge. So educators that have come to something like this have been able to add to their knowledge, and it’s super important for educators to be able to see a different way of learning,” Copeland said.
One of Copeland’s highlights was visiting Buffalo Eddy during a Nez Perce-led traditional waterways jet boat tour. The sacred eddy site includes 2000-year-old petroglyphs and pictographs.
“I like history so it was really interesting for me to see that area was special to them,” she said. “And I was excited to see that it’s been preserved so that people coming behind us — even my kids or my grandkids — could come and see something that had been done that long ago that hadn’t been destroyed.”
Tanyka Begaye, a member of the Navajo tribe, traveled to the summit from the Treasure Valley, where she works as a coordinator with Boise State University’s Orientation and Tribal Student Success.
Begaye was there to support the Idaho Indian Education Committee and learn more about tribal connections with STEM.
“It’s also a great networking opportunity to just see people and get to learn what work they’re doing in their own communities,” Begaye said.
She mentioned the struggle many higher education institutions face with misinformed or misleading Native American data.
“The second session I was in, we were talking about data and how misinformed the data can be and how hard it is to identify our students on campus,” she said. “If we can’t identify them, then we’re not connecting with them or not getting them the support they need.”
Longtime librarian Jean Millheim drove down from Potlatch, encouraged by her school superintendent and the Idaho Commission for Libraries.
“This is a very important part about our history, no matter what your background,” Millheim said. “So I think it’s really important for all Idahoans to know where they’re sitting.”
She was particularly struck by the Native American relationship with land and the history of their sacred sites.
“I realized they haven’t moved or haven’t emigrated. This is where they are. I realized intellectually at that moment — this is theirs,” Millheim said.