An education policy that dictates but does not translate into direct engagement and action is incomplete, says master’s student Nolan Altvater. And this is especially true of LD 291, a law in its home state of what is now Maine, which requires the teaching of Indigenous history and culture in K-12 schools across the state. .
As a Passamaquoddy citizen – one of the four tribes that make up the Wabanaki Confederacy – Altvater hopes to see the promise of this policy come true. Although Maine law has been in place for over 20 years, the responsibility for complying with this requirement rests entirely with local school districts, some of which still lack the funding and resources to do so successfully. And educators, even if a school has a curriculum, are generally not prepared to teach it, as there are currently no compulsory courses for majors in education within the University of Maine system, a large food for public school and teacher certification system. Because of these obstacles, many teachers often homogenize the Wabanaki story.
Altaver is trying to change that. As a member of an advisory board for the Portland Public School System, he worked with educators and other tribal leaders to develop curriculum and resources, help educators implement them successfully, and empower future generations of native Maine youth of a program relevant to them and their experiences.
âThe most important goals of indigenous education policy are to fully integrate, in my case, the curriculum, worldviews and Wabanaki culture, while building the capacities of indigenous youth and making the ‘education more relevant to their ways of knowing and being, âhe says. âBecause we cannot devote all of our energy and time to studying the curriculum, we must use our intellectual traditions within educational spaces to build the relationships necessary to support the sovereignty and self-determination of Wabanaki youth. ”
While an undergraduate student at the University of Maine, Altvater began to nurture relationships with educators and youth in schools, designing virtual learning experiences for science classes that featured focus on the relationship between the Penobscots and their ancestral rivers. He has also conducted community action research projects that have helped him better understand the impact of LD 291 in Maine. Additionally, Altvater sits on the board of directors of Wabanaki REACH, a restorative organization that supports the self-determination of the Wabanaki community.
âWe rely on the power within our communities and the relationships we have together [to do this], says Altvater. âAnd relationship building is essential for that. This is also why I am interested in education – it is a process in which we are all engaged.
While at HGSE, Altvater hopes to continue this work and develop new tools to build relationships with educators, empower young people through participatory action research, and be able to analyze the successes and obstacles to the current program of ‘Wabanaki studies. Cultivating this kind of knowledge and skills will enable it to bring law-related policies to life.
âComing from a traditional oral background, what matters most is participation and interaction in decision-making,â says Altvater. âWe have the law, but it is incomplete. It requires direct commitment and action.
In doing so, he draws not only on existing relationships in his community, but also on relationships with the past – especially the traditions and scholarship of academic mentors like Rebecca Sockbeson, Ed. M. ’98, professor at the University of Alberta, who also worked on the passage and implementation of the Wabanaki Studies Act in Maine. The work of Wayne Newell, Ed.M. ’71, a Passamaquoddy elder and founder of the Harvard University Native American Program, gave the example. HGSE, Altvater notes, has always been a space for Indigenous educators to find the tools to enrich their communities and build intellectual traditions.
âIt takes intergenerational work to achieve systemic and educational change,â says Altvater. “By interacting with their stories, the stories of their past, by analyzing our traditional forms and systems of governance, I find my own theoretical framework, I find my story in the stories of my ancestors and I continue now for future generations who will come after me. “