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A new curriculum tells the history of the Nisqually tribe

Available at all local schools

With a click of a mouse, 15 years of cooperative work to create a Nisqually Tribe curriculum to be used by local school districts zipped over to an Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) employee’s remote drive.

With clapping and whoops, Nisqually Tribal Council blessed the result of the teamwork of Nisqually Archives Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Annette Bullchild and local educator and historian Abbi Wonacott.

“We know that many times tribal information is submitted, but teachers don’t know the history or are afraid to teach it because of making mistakes,” said Bullchild. “Abbi has used Nisqually information from the Cecelia Svinth-Carpenter collection and some of her own research as a curriculum for teachers and we’re going to pilot it in the Bethel School District in 2023 to make sure this works for teachers.”

Ceceila Svinth-Carpenter was a Nisqually tribal member who dedicated a significant part of her life to researching the tribe’s history. She wrote several books, but also kept meticulous records. Wonacott worked directly with Svinth-Carpenter and, following her passing, with the records along with her own research.

The resulting curriculum is a living document that can be amended by Tribal Council resolution. Legislation championed by Washington Senator John McCoy, Tulalip tribal member, was passed in 2005, requiring the teaching of tribal history that has been submitted by tribes. Known as Since Time Immemorial (STI), the materials for general education have been created, but specific curriculum for tribes in the local areas of schools is the responsibility of each tribe.

“While the state Legislature passed STI, they didn’t attach any funding to it,” said Bullchild. The Nisqually Tribe, however, donated charitable funds to STI over several years. “This would not have happened without the tribe’s contributions,” said Dr. Laura Lynn, Interim Executive Director of the Office of Native Education at the OSPI.

Wonacott grew up near the Mashel River and always wanted to know more about the history. She worked with her honors classes in the Bethel School District to research the story of the Mashel Massacre and that began a long journey of reaching out to Nisqually and working to create the full curriculum, even before the passage of STI. She also wrote a book, Where the Mashel Meets the Nisqually: The Mashel Massacre of 1856.

“That history haunted me as a child, and I just thought it was so important to have all the students know about it,” said Wonacott.

“It’s a beginning, a first step, is how I think about it,“ said Bullchild. “It’s something that’s organized in a curriculum, and we can point to it whenever anyone calls for this kind of information. It’s been researched and vetted and it can be updated as needed.”

“This is a huge step to have this available to school districts or really anyone that wants to know our story,” said Willie Frank III, Chairman of the Nisqually Tribe. “It complements the outreach we are doing and reduces some of the load. We love doing the outreach, but it is helpful to have this basic education about Nisqually always available to schools and the public.”

Debbie Preston is the Public Information Officer for the Nisqually Tribe. This article is reprinted by permission from the December issue of the Nisqually Absch News. Other newsletter issues offer a wealth of interesting articles, pictures and events related to the Tribe’s activities.

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