Julie Cajune: American Indian Education Advocate

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by Staff, Utne Reader
November-December 2009
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Julie Cajune returned home one summer after college and was recruited to teach a bilingual Salish language and his­tory class on the Flathead Reservation in Ronan, Montana. The course was required for all students, regardless of ethnicity, and Cajune initially questioned the community’s readiness. But she dug in and has been working tirelessly in education ever since.

Cajune, a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, first taught students at two fold-up lunch tables in a hallway with teaching materials she fashioned from scratch. Now, with the help of funding from the state, Cajune is helping to provide other educators with the tools they need to close the cultural awareness chasm and bring American Indian histories to the masses.

The funding is part of Montana’s Indian Education for All provision, which mandated the teaching of American Indian history in all of the state’s public schools. In 2005 Governor Brian Schweitzer also designated funding for the state’s seven tribal colleges (one per reservation) to collect their native histories and develop teaching materials.

Cajune spent two years gathering stories from her own community. She then incorporated stories from the other reservations and developed a 60-page narrative and accompanying curriculum. Now she hopes that universities will be challenged to alleviate some of the burden from K-12 programs.

“I believe in the power of stories and the value of teaching with stories,” Cajune says. “Until those stories become known by everybody, our identity as a nation isn’t going to mature.”

Extras:

We first learned of Julie’s work in Joan Melcher’s piece “A History in the Making” from the May-June issue of Miller-McCune magazine. For further information on the Indian Education for All provision, the Montana Office of Public Instruction has a comprehensive collection of essential readings.

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