Captured Dakota below Fort Snelling in 1862

Captured Dakota below Fort Snelling in 1862

Minneapolis South has long had a reputation as a place of academic ferment, both in the classroom and sometimes inter-culturally.

It’s teachers like Corinth Matera who are the yeast in that ferment.  Her work has now won her one of five anti-racism citations given this year through the St. Paul Foundation’s Facing Race awards.

Matera has taught English for 14 years at South, a school that combines students from open school, liberal arts and Indian backgrounds.

Corinth Matera

Corinth Matera

That’s particularly apt, given that she was cited for a unit she has led for three years as part of the team-taught Advanced Placement English curriculum. The course focuses on language and composition, but her unit of eight to nine weeks focuses on how to construct a researched argument.  She approaches that in a culturally relevant way.

Students jointly are exposed to common sources, but then are asked to built an argument responding to this question: What land reparations, if any, should the Dakota receive from the state of Minnesota?

Students visit Fort Snelling, which played a role in the 1862 Dakota conflict. They are exposed to the book “What Does Justice Look Like? The Struggle for Liberation in Dakota Homeland,” authored by Dakota activist Waziyatawin, and she visited the class.  So did Minnesota History Center director Dan Spock, parent of a South student. “They had the opportunity to hear from these two people with vastly different views and great knowledge,” Matera said.

Some students are inspired to expand their research. Others bridle at the notion of reparations, which for Matera is not as important as whether they can support that position with a well-researched point of view. “The way the course is structured gives students to opportunity to structure their own argument,” she said.

It’s not like she lacks strong feelings on education and racism. “We have an educational system that historically and currently does not serve all populations equally,” she said.  She’s driven to be part of the solution, a passion she said that stems from an upbringing “observing the racial segregation and inequities in the small Kentucky town I grew up in and learning from my family how important it is to be part of positive change in one's community.”

The student research also got wider exposure within the school.  It was shared with an AP U.S. history course, and the authors of those papers  led a panel discussion for their history course peers.  When Waziyatawin spoke to her students, studens in the native All Nations program not already in the class were invited to hear her.  “It has put their history at the center in a course where it may not have been at the center.  For non-native students, it has helped them to become more aware.”

Waziyatawin was impressed enough with the students work that she was the one who nominated Matera in the foundation’s annual recognition of educators making extra efforts to address racism.

Matera is also in her seventh year of advising the student newspaper at South.  She’s been active in an outside nonprofit called the Women's Prison Book Project since about 1998. The all-volunteer collective  sends free books to women in prison all over the country.