On Friday afternoon, Target Range Elementary was wrapping up its "Indian Education Week," a misnomer if there ever was one.

In the teachers lounge, the shells of Indian tacos were frying up, filling the small room with an aroma that brought to mind the Western Montana Fair and all the scrumptious food served daily there.

All through this week, the children of Target Range, and the teachers, too, have been immersed in Indian culture - learning the art of bowmaking and tribal drumming and the literature and stories of Montana's tribal heritage.

A celebration, yes. But to Peggy Purdy, a fourth-grade teacher and one of the developers of the school's Indian Education for All curriculum, this week is the culmination of an entire program that immerses students in Indian culture all throughout the year.

"This is our one week to highlight our program," she said.

Indian Education for All, a state education requirement since 1999 but not funded significantly until 2005, is a set of guidelines and standards that individual school districts implement to create their own Indian education curriculum.

One of the misconceptions is that those programs are quick and short introductions to Indian history and culture, then shelved until they surface again the following year.

Not so. And definitely not at Target Range.

While Indian Education Week there is a particularly Native-based period of learning, Target Range's program is present all year long in every class, from P.E. to math.

Developed over the past three years, the Target Range program has been particularly honed to a point this year.

Purdy pulled out a giant Rubbermaid tub, stuffed to the top.

"See?" she said. "Beads, yarn, leather, powwow guides, books, cookbooks ..."

***

When the state Legislature passed the requirement, it fulfilled a constitutional requirement that Indian education be an integral part of Montana education.

It established the Indian Education for All department of the state Office of Public Instruction, which guides districts in workshops and provides grade-appropriate lessons, materials and program standards.

Mandy Smoker Broaddus, director of the department, said districts often need OPI's help in setting up a curriculum - in the form of lesson plans, materials or both. Mostly, they want the program to be as authentic as possible.

"That's our biggest concern, too," said Broaddus. "But we don't want people to be afraid to make the first step, even though there may be mistakes along the way."

Purdy and the Target Range teachers have attended Indian Education for All seminars and workshops, developed guidebooks for each grade level and bought enough material to, well, fill up a lot of Rubbermaid tubs.

Far from being a week of "show and tell," Indian Education for All is meant to weave Indian stories, culture and history into the fabric of education as a whole.

Unlike some educational requirements, this one has been fully funded by the state. And for Purdy, that's a crucial fact.

"There's a lot of money, and we're trying to use it properly," she said. "People don't realize that this is not just for fun. It's a state-mandated program. But we do try to make it fun."

Broaddus said while her department can provide plenty of guidance, ultimately it's up to administrators and teachers to familiarize and educate themselves about American Indian issues, especially those of the tribal community nearest to them.

"We can familiarize a staff with basic orientation to some concepts," she said. "But it's especially important, based on where you're located in the state, to reach out to the Indian community closest to you."

Reporter Jamie Kelly can be reached at 523-5254 or at jkelly@missoulian.com.

 

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