Why Are My People Excluded From My Textbook?


Metzli Lemus, Guest Writer

My eyes were teary when I walked into the living room of my house.

My whole life, I was raised in an Indigenous community. This year, as I entered my junior year of high school, there was excitement throughout my house: excitement to see what I would be learning this year in my AP US History class.

Fast forward to a week before school started. There were tears in my eyes as I explained to my parents that our people are represented as savages, ruthless, uncivilized, and in need of saving. The history book called native tribes in the US and in Mexico extinct, completely disregarding years of fighting against boarding schools, missions and more to keep our traditions alive.

There are only 25 pages dedicated to the Native Americans, out of 1,006 pages in “The American Pageant,” our AP US History textbook.

The Europeans took this land from the Natives and there are only 25 pages to tell the true American history. The American history that led to generational trauma and modern day reservations that are poverty stricken, and are pushed to the outskirts of their own land.

Still, the president feels we need a more “patriotic” curriculum for history, when our textbooks already disregard any other historical point of view if it does not come from the dominant culture.

Under the 1776 Commission, his answer to the New York Times’ 1619 Project, Trump is calling for an education where “our heroes will never be forgotten,” also noting that “our youth will be taught to love America.” Trump has also received money through grants that promote what he calls his new “pro-American curriculum.”

To quote NBC News, Trump claims that “the framing of history around race was ‘toxic propaganda’ and ‘a form of child abuse in the truest sense of those words.'” He has also claimed that Democrats are “pushing education that makes students ‘ashamed’ of America’s history.” He believes teaching students of this history is “unpatriotic.”

This new commission that the President is developing will undoubtedly try to disregard the side of history that needs more representation. The side of history that has been covered up because it is considered “un-American.”

Through trying to save face for America, these textbooks are refusing to acknowledge the many stories that occurred before European influence. America existed long before European colonization, so why are we only learning our history, starting from the Europeans? There are many different cultures in the continent of America that are not even mentioned in the textbooks.

According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, there are 574 federally recognized tribes. According to our textbook in a picto-diagram, there are approximately 86 tribes in America.

As students are taking this class, who know their ancestors have a story in the creation of America, they too want to be able to learn about themselves in their history book. They also would want to learn about their ancestors in a positive way, including the truth about what occurred to their peoples.

The only way students can learn about the true history of America is if they take it upon themselves to do their own research and read first hand resources from Indigenous peoples retelling their own stories. Howard Zinn, who wrote books for all ages, is one of many authors whose books retell the history we learn in the classroom, but with the historical facts. He presents the unpopular version of US history.

In fact, “The American Pageant” actually implies that the Europeans only brought good things to the US. For example, one of the vocabulary words for Chapter 1 is “Black Legend” and the definition is the “false notion that Spanish conquerors did little but butcher the Indians and steal their gold in the name of Christ.”

This definition alone disregards the trauma Indigenous peoples went through as a result of European colonization. The book fails to mention the boarding schools European-Americans forced Natives into.The book fails to mention the violence. The book fails to mention the forced assimilation. Because of this, 1,820 students at Rio Americano High School have a limited view of the Native American experience.

Our textbooks need to represent more of the Indigenous peoples of our continent, especially if it is going to tell the true history of the United States of America. As an Indigenous person, my culture is beautiful. To be able to open a textbook in class and learn about my peoples would give us a feeling of empowerment. It wouldn’t give us a one sided view. By having more representation in our textbook, it would also help students understand the balance of history, the beautiful and the ugly.