SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — A bill requiring public schools to teach Native American history is one step closer to becoming law.
The proposal passed out of the Senate Education Committee and heads to the floor for a vote.
The bill would require elementary and high school students to learn about Native American history as part of a unit in their social studies classes.
If it passes, that would begin in the 2024-2025 school year.
“We’re hoping that not only will this bring the truth to the forefront of who we are, what are place has been in the United States and before the United States, and that that will help really a great healing [to] take place in our country,” Dorene Wiese, the president of the American Indian Association, said.
The Native American Chamber of Commerce also supports the bill and the organization’s executive director, Andrew Johnson, said it won’t just benefit students.
“It’s a tremendous win for the educators, because they’ll have resources that they can draw upon, that they can rely upon in teaching their students,” Johnson said. “I think it’s going to be a win for the Native American population to be recognized.”
The proposal would include teaching students about the contributions Native Americans have made in areas like government, the arts and the humanities. It would also look at how they have helped shape the country as well as their own nations politically, economically, socially and culturally.
The unit under the proposal would also teach students about Illinois’ urban Native American populations and “the lives of contemporary Native Americans living in this state”, the bill reads.
“There is such a remarkable set of actions and progress that we have made since that time to really establish ourselves here, and this is really going to help people to understand some of that past, but bring their knowledge and understanding up to our current day,” Johnson said.
The bill also mandates that schools teach grades 6 through 12 about genocide and discrimination against Native Americans.
Wiese said the bill is a step in the right direction but that Native Americans are still facing challenges today especially when it comes to access to health care and education.
“The only way that we can stop it, that we can change it the course, that we can actually encourage our own people to become active in these movements is to acknowledge for them to know the history,” Wiese said.
Some Republicans in the committee that passed the bill voted against it. They say it’s an unfunded mandate on schools and that most schools are already teaching the topic.