New project seeks to educate Hawaii students about Native American culture, history

·3 min read

Nov. 1—Growing up on the mainland, Mae Prieto said she wished she'd learned more about the history and stories of Indigenous people during school. So when Prieto, who is Native American and Native Hawaiian, took the reigns of the Oahu Intertribal Council in 2011, she made education one of her priorities.

Through the council's work, Prieto, who moved to Hawaii with her family in the 1960s, and her team have brought their members into schools for cultural demonstrations at the request of teachers. But now the nonprofit is taking on a major project to develop curriculum for schools that they say better and more accurately reflects Native American stories, history and heritage and its parallels to Native Hawaiian culture.

"(My mom ) felt it was important for us to know both of our cultures, who we are and where we come from. I'm trying to keep that up as her legacy, " said Prieto, whose mother was one of the founders of what would become the, a nonprofit that seeks to share, promote and educate the local community about Native American traditions, cultures and heritage, and organizes the annual Honolulu Intertribal Powwow. "I think the world would be so different if we had learned the true history and story of native people and not the colonizers' story."

The curriculum the council is developing is for elementary school students and would include lessons on Native American culture and history, similarities to other Indigenous people, including Native Hawaiians, and hands-­

on cultural activities, such as drumming and basket weaving. Prieto, the council's president, pointed out that students could relate to and better understand the information by seeing similarities in the Hawaiian and Native American cultures.

In Hawaii there are about 4, 400 American Indians and Alaska Natives, a nearly 5 % increase from 2010, according to census data. That number reflects census respondents who identified as American Indian and Alaska Native alone. When including those who identified as American Indian and Alaska Native in combination with other ethnicities, that number jumps to more than 37, 000, a nearly 27 % increase from 2010.

Tiana Brennan, who joined the all-volunteer council in 2017 and is spearheading the project, said they hope to finish developing the curriculum and begin using it next year. She said they hope to start working with home-school families first to hold sessions at a park, depending on the COVID-19 situation.

The long-term goal is to partner with the state Department of Education to expand to more students and develop curriculum for middle and high school students, she said. Brennan, who is Native American and Hispanic, said they want to be a resource for schools and have standard curriculum that accompanies the cultural demonstrations the council's members already lead.

Brennan, who earned a bachelor's degree in human development and family studies from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, is taking education courses at Leeward Community College to help with creating the curriculum. She said she initially got involved with the project after choosing to home-school her son last year during the pandemic. Through those experiences, she said, she started creating lesson plans for him and realized that she enjoyed it.

The nonprofit is applying for grants to help pay stipends to members who lead cultural demonstrations and for educators whom they bring from the mainland to Hawaii, Prieto said. She and Brennan said they are excited to see this idea come to life.

"People have these very generalized views of Native Americans. I want people to know that we're not a dying people, " Brennan said. "Our culture is alive. It's still growing, and just like the Hawaiian culture, the language is being revived. When we can understand other people's cultures and history, it gives us a different worldview and more of an understanding toward others."------Jayna Omaye covers ethnic and cultural affairs and is a corps member of Report for America, a national serv ­ice organization that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under ­covered issues and communities.