Native Americans express concerns during Davis Joint Unified School Board District meeting

Native Americans express concerns during Davis Joint Unified School Board District meeting

Photo Credits: ANDREA GONZALEZ / AGGIE

The Davis Native Family Alliance formed to discuss, display problems faced by Native students

Members of the Davis Native Family Alliance voiced concerns over Native American representation during a board meeting of the Davis Joint Union School District on Nov. 15. DNFA is a group composed of Native families with children enrolled in DJUSD schools. According to Teri Digregorio, a member of DNFA and a parent of a student, the purpose of DNFA is to present a unified voice in articulating the needs of equity for Native American students.

“We are bound together by the fact that our children endure profound negative psychological impacts through the anti-native curriculums, attitudes and approaches that are embedded into the content and teaching practices at DJUSD,” Digregorio said to the board during the meeting.

The DNFA told the board that the Davis area is the “ancestral unseated home” of the Wintu nation of the Patwin people.

“These sovereign people have been the caretakers of this land since time immemorial,” Digregorio said. “Despite centuries of genocide and occupation, the Wintu people continue in existence in the Davis area.”

According to Melinda Adams, a member of DNFA and a parent of a student, the group is joined together by the negative experiences that Native American students face. The group began when Kate Snow, the climate coordinator for the district, suggested that Native American parents meet.

“[Snow] had identified a couple of us that sit on our individual school district climate committee and suggested that we meet together to at least try to share our experiences,” Adams said to the board. “And from there we’ve kind been more aware of some of the experiences that our children have been having.”

One of the issues DNFA discussed was how Native Americans were presented in school events. According to Lupita Torres, a member of DNFA, the emphasis on Columbus Day and Pioneer days may perpetuate harmful attitudes. Additionally, she expressed that there should be a greater recognition of Native American History Month and Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

“The emphasis on Columbus Day perpetuates attitudes of genocide toward native people,” Torres said. “Classroom activities surrounding Thanksgiving may contribute to erroneous history, stereotypes and toxic stress on Native children and families. The lack of recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day adds to the erasure of our living people of the present day.”

Additionally, according to Adams, the group finds topics currently included in the history curriculum as lacking perspective. For example, some families found the pioneer teachings and field trips to forts, said to have been occupied by native peoples at one point, concerning.

“We’ve been more aware of some of the experiences that our children have been having,”
Adams said to the board. “Mainly the pioneer curriculum that the students will be facing the fourth grade, as well as harmful field trips to forts and otherwise occupied territories that Native peoples that at one time occupied. Pioneer days represents a direct assault on the psyche of our children, where they are required to dress up and celebrate the genocide of our own people.”

According to Jesus Valle, a professor at American River College, the suspension rate of Native American children across California is 7.4 percent, which was much higher than the overall statewide suspension rate of 3.6 percent.

“So when we pull the data we see that there is a problem within the system,” Valle said. “Why is it that our students are singled out? […] We need to dig deep, if Davis is going to be an inclusive place.”

Valle explained how the school district should work toward receiving a Title VI demonstration grant, in addition to “bringing Allyship, building connections and building voice.”

Digregorio explained that even though the district may have good intentions, the Native American community should have the opportunity to be heard and have a say in how they are represented in the curriculum.

“We understand that the administration, faculty and staff of DJUSD may have the best of intentions with regard to delivering culturally appropriate instruction,” Digregorio said. “However, without a direct partnership that includes and prioritizes direct native voices and input in the determination of curriculum, methods and best practices, the hostile atmosphere that our children endure will not be remedied.”

Although the DNFA presented many issues it felt were prevalent in the community, Torres stated that there are more complex issues.

“This list presents the largest issues, but we understand the level of microaggressions that occur in the classrooms and on the playgrounds — the toxic environment is much more complex,” Torres said. “We envision DJUSD putting resources towards a development of a culturally validated resource repository for teachers, opportunities for instructor development and a general shift in the climate with regards to Native Americans.”

After the general public comment ended, the education board welcomed the idea of having an indigenous blessing during the next board meeting.

Written by: Hannan Waliullah — city@theaggie.org