According to a 2022-2023 school year report from the State Board of Education, around 80% to 90% of school districts are incorporating tribal history and culture in their social studies programs. That’s a big jump from the last report from the 2021-2022 school year when 44% of districts reported having yet to implement tribal history and culture into their social studies curricula.

But without minimum standards, Henry Strom, executive director of the state’s Office of Native Education, said it’s difficult to know how many schools are providing quality Since Time Immemorial curricula because the original 2015 legislation did not set minimum standards. That’s why HB 1332 is important, he said.

At a meeting last month between tribal and state governments, Gov. Jay Inslee asked Suquamish Tribe chair Leonard Forsman how many districts were “cutting the mustard” when it came to implementing Since Time Immemorial.

“I think we’re probably under a third,” said Forsman, also a University of Washington board of regents member. He said the actual statistic may be lower.

“So that’s not exactly a success,” Inslee responded.

In the 2022 report, some officials in districts that had not yet implemented Since Time Immemorial reported that their districts had not updated their overall social studies curriculums.

“A district could, in theory, choose to delay the onset of a social studies [curriculum] adoption if they weren’t inclined to support Since Time Immemorial,” Strom said at the meeting where Forsman and Inslee spoke.

The work to create and implement Since Time Immemorial began in 1989, said Bill, whose father was one of the first tribal leaders to work on the curriculum. Tribes started funding the work in 2003, and the first legislation “strongly encouraging” implementing the curriculum came in 2005.

“This is some legacy work for us that we’re carrying on,” said Bill, a member of the Muckleshoot Tribe.

Studies of school programs across the country indicate that teaching Native history to Native students often improves their educational outcomes. Native students have the lowest graduation rate in Washington state compared to other races and ethnicities.

Lopez said she wasn’t that interested in school before taking the Native history class.

“I didn’t see myself in stories and books,” Lopez said. “So when you put something like this in front of students, especially Native American students…and you tell stories of successful people, it opens up a sea of opportunities for a child. It changes the way they look at life.”

Today, 16-year-old Francheska Helton is taking the class Lopez first took: Alison McCartan’s 11th grade Native history class, taught at River Ridge High School. When asked what stories resonated with her, Helton, too, pointed to Rosalie Fish.

“I’m like, ‘I didn’t know that. How did I not know that? That’s someone from my tribe,’” said Helton, who is Cowlitz, like Fish.

Read the full article about tribal history by Grace Deng at The 74.