Minnesota Commissioner of Education Visits Yellow Medicine East to Observe University Class on Indigenous Nations

Minnesota Commissioner of Education Visits Yellow Medicine East to Observe University Class on Indigenous Nations

GRANITE FALLS — A group of high school students from Granite Falls learn the authentic history of the state’s native nations while taking a new class at Yellow Medicine East High School.

Minnesota Education Commissioner Heather Mueller and members of her staff visited the school to observe the class this week, part of a state government effort to expand relationships and understanding with Native communities in Minnesota.

A total of 17 students are enrolled in the Introduction to Aboriginal Nations course. Students who complete the course will earn high school and college credits.

Taught by Adam Savariego, students learn the different perspectives throughout history of how Indigenous peoples came to be in what would later be the United States.

Savariego previously taught at Southwest Minnesota State University. and is now on the faculty of Minnesota West Community College in Granite Falls. He is also a board member of the Upper Sioux community near Granite Falls.

During a class period this week, Savariego spoke with students about the various stories about how the Dakota came to what is now Minnesota.

“There have always been non-Natives writing stories about Dakota origins,” he said.

Instructor Adam Savariego speaks with students during the Introduction to Indigenous Cultures class Oct. 25, 2022 at Yellow Medicine East High School in Granite Falls. Students taking the course for the first time will earn high school and college credits upon completion.

Linda Vanderwerf / West Central Tribune

He told them about how scholars dug up Dakota burial mounds for research beginning in the 19th century. This lasted about 100 years, until the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act came into effect in the 1990s.

The remaining mounds are protected and should not be disturbed, he said.

Savariego spoke about the roles played by both genders in Dakota culture and explained the symbolism associated with the roles.

For example, only women install a tepee. It begins with three poles, symbolizing mother, father and children, “the foundation of the house itself”, he said.

Four poles are added next, and the robe or buffalo wrap is added, symbolizing the unconditional love of grandparents.

The students of the course said they enjoyed it.

“I wanted to know more about my story,” said elder Nevaeh Chaparro. “All of this is important knowledge that we should know but have never been taught. When this course came along, I knew it was time.

A lot of people are expected to take the course, said Atrinity Tipton, senior.

Studying culture “opens your mind to other things you’ve never known,” she said. “I thought I knew a lot of my story, but I didn’t.”

Leah Schueler, success coach and district onboarding coordinator, said the course offers a college-provided instructor in Savariego and gives students a first step toward college.

“We’ve worked hard to bring it to YME,” said Berta Bjerkeset, District Indian Education Director.

Superintendent Rich Schneider said the district is looking for more opportunities to introduce students to higher education, especially for those who would be the first generation in their families to attend college.

The three-credit course is paired with a one-credit freshman seminar, a course that covers study skills and other information that can help students make the transition to college.

The courses provide the equivalent of one high school credit in social studies to students. It meets for two hours three days a week. The first-year seminar meets one day a week.

Bringing college classes to high school eliminates the need for transportation to the Minnesota West campus across town, which is sometimes inconvenient, Schneider said.

Mueller said courses like Introduction to Indigenous Nations are important for engaging Indigenous students and expanding access to information for all students.

“The ability to expand access means more students have the opportunity to participate, not only our students who are Dakota or Ojibwe,” Mueller said, “but also our students who are non-Indigenous students, who have to be able to learn not only the historical but current context of the tribal nations in the state.

Mueller said it’s important for the state to “make a thoughtful decision” to ensure the state’s tribal nations have their history recognized and accurately taught.

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