A new report commissioned by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) found that most K-12 Minnesota teachers don't have the confidence or tools needed to teach about Native Americans — and that the resources available vary widely in quality.

"Nothing that we're doing is working particularly well," said Odia Wood-Krueger , author of the report and a teacher in Saskatchewan and Minneapolis for more than two decades. "We need to do better."

The survey and report are part of the tribe's Understand Native Minnesota philanthropic campaign, a $5 million effort to fund educational resources and training for teachers and administrators on Native American content that began in 2019.

On the positive side, educators want to improve, the report said.

"I'm really excited about this report. It was a long time coming," said Rebecca Crooks-Stratton, secretary-treasurer of the SMSC, based in Prior Lake. The tribe owns and operates Mystic Lake Casino Hotel.

Crooks-Stratton said she was happy to see that there's an appetite among educators for quality, vetted curriculum. There are some good resources out there, she said, but more are needed and they must be age-appropriate and aligned to state standards.

Wood-Krueger's survey, which was given to educators, curriculum leaders and educational organizations via e-mail in 2021, received 617 responses, 542 from educators.

"This is the first of its kind ever to be created in Minnesota," Wood-Krueger said.

Two-thirds of the educators who completed the survey don't feel confident teaching Native content and said the top challenge was a lack of curricular resources.

Many educators — some 37% — had never attended professional development related to teaching Native topics, the report said.

"We're asking teachers to do things that they're not supported to do ... and then we're like, why aren't you teaching Native content?" Wood-Krueger said.

The general public wants more Native American-related subject matter taught in school. Data from a previous SMSC survey indicates that 90% of Minnesotans support teaching additional Native American content in K-12 classes.

Combating Native American erasure

One impetus for the report and evaluation of resources is the erasure of Native Americans in American society generally and in school curriculum, the report said.

"So many people don't realize that Native Americans still exist," Wood-Krueger said.

That's despite the fact that a 2010 Minnesota law requires that Dakota and Ojibwe languages and culture be taught across all subjects in Minnesota public schools, said Ramona Kitto Stately , chair of the Minnesota Indian Education Association and project director of We Are Still Here Minnesota, a network of Native American leaders that breaks down negative narratives about Native Americans.

"This survey is about spotlighting what teachers really need," Stately said. "They're really afraid to do the wrong thing."

The results weren't a surprise, Stately said, but data was needed to move efforts forward.

The report also offers recommendations for improving access to and training about Native American content. They include creating professional development sessions and accessible curriculum that meets state standards, expanding opportunities for Native American experts to visit classrooms and for tribal involvement in creating new materials.

They also suggest creating an online repository for teaching resources and an online "Indigenous Education for All" program covering Minnesota-specific Native American subject matter for adults and children.

"I can't think of a better time than now to be more inclusive of the true history of our state," Stately said.

The Understand Native Minnesota campaign is moving into the grantmaking phase, Crooks-Stratton said, during which a team will evaluate curriculum and training proposals and decide which ones to fund.

"This report is going to be a big piece in deciding what projects we fund in the granting phase, which ones are going to give us the most bang for our buck," Crooks-Stratton said.