Indigenous-Led Effort Changes Illinois School Curriculum to Cover Native History

he 2024 high school graduation season in Illinois was more than a personal milestone for the 140,090 students who earned diplomas in the state’s public high schools. One hundred and sixty-nine years after public school education was first mandated in the state, age-appropriate instruction in Native history will be offered as a matter of course beginning this fall.

Last year, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed Public Act 103-0422 into law mandating a new unit of study for Native American history in kindergarten through high school. As with all such mandates in Illinois, each of the 852 school districts will decide how to meet it within their local curricula. But they will be greatly aided by a resource guide developed by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) with stakeholder groups, including Indigenous educators and scholars, advocates from the Native American Chamber of Commerce and the Chicago American Indian Community Collaborative, as well as a member of the Prairie Band of Potawatomi Tribal Council.

Megan Bang, a professor of learning sciences and director of the Center for Native American and Indigenous Research at Northwestern University in Chicago, is one of the Native scholars who has helped propel the process forward. “I wanted a law because without law, good intentions can disappear at [the] next elections,” she told Truthout. Though Native people she knows personally have been pushing school districts for inclusion in the history curricula in Chicagoland public schools since at least the 1990s — “and probably always,” she said — Bang, who is of Ojibwe and Italian descent, can’t remember in her own schooling ever learning “about us.”

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