Tulsa Public Schools students will have an opportunity to learn the language and culture of a southwestern Oklahoma tribe during the next school year.
It’s a long-overdue recognition that tribal life is worthy of academic study for all students.
Tulsa — which sits on land assigned to Muscogee, Osage and Cherokee Nations before statehood — ought to be a place where students learn about Indigenous life. That includes the history, language, customs and modern traditions.
The uncomfortable history is that American Indian people were systematically stripped of their languages and customs during westward expansion. Children were taken from parents and placed in boarding schools where they were not allowed to speak, dress, dance or participate in ceremonies.
The efforts were part of eradicating rights of Indigenous nations and its people.
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It’s only been through purposeful preservation efforts by tribes that have allowed for the survival of the languages and traditions.
The TPS board voted 4-1 to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the Carnegie-based Kiowa Tribe for the program. Board member E’Lena Ashley opposed it based on unrelated agenda items.
It is believed this is the first time TPS has offered a course in any Indigenous language, according to reporter Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton.
The Kiowa Tribe has about 11,000 enrolled citizens. Their language is considered endangered because no one younger than 18 is a fluent speaker. It is also “isolated,” meaning not related to any other spoken language.
Students taking the course will better understand the Kiowa Tribe and also differences from other Indigenous nations. Oklahoma students ought to graduate with a basic knowledge of the American Indian experience.
The course is considered supplementary, not counting towards graduation requirements. We encourage the district to grow and expand the program to eventually be considered a graduation credit.
This is the latest example of TPS embracing diversity, equity and inclusion of all its students and staff. It’s a welcoming of different backgrounds and cultures and acknowledging a vital part of Oklahoma.
We are excited students have this new option and hope it is the start of other American Indian language courses becoming available.