Just before 5 p.m. on the day the bill was set to die, the Senate advanced a measure that would give teachers the tools to educate Wyoming students on Native American history.
Commonly known as the Indian Education for All bill, HB76 would bring together Wyoming’s Board of Education and Department of Education with the state’s Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes to “evaluate and review existing state social studies content and performance standards.”
The goal of that evaluation process is to ensure that the contributions of Native Americans in Wyoming are “addressed in the Wyoming social studies content and performance standards.”
Under the bill, the department of education, working with the state’s two tribes, would make materials and resources available to educators through its website.
Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, co-sponsored the bill and said Monday that it was a three-year effort. In discussion with other lawmakers before the Senate voted to approve the bill on its first reading, he talked about the importance of the state’s two tribes and the need to preserve their history.
“We have people growing up in Wyoming, our youngsters, who don’t realize there’s a reservation in Wyoming,” he said.
Cherokee Brown, a co-founder of the Wind River Advocacy Center, said she was worried the bill wasn’t going to make it. It was one of the last bills considered Monday.
But the bill ultimately passed on a vote of 21 to 4. Speaking after the vote, Brown said she was so excited that she was going to scream once she got off the phone. She talked about the impact the bill would have on future generations.
“These are people who are going to live and work together for how many years?” she said, referring to her freshman daughter and her high school friends.
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Wyoming is home to two tribes, the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone, who share a reservation and a tribal government, the only such arrangement in the nation. The tribes’ Wind River Reservation is also the nation’s seventh largest.
Jason Baldes, the executive director of the advocacy center, said after the vote that he had sent a note to each senator. He believed that had Native Americans not been at the Jonah Business Center to lobby for the bill, it would not have come up and would have died Monday.
Sen. Affie Ellis, a Cheyenne Republican and another co-sponsor, told lawmakers about Native American students sometimes being greeted with racial abuse during sports trips across the state.
“It’s a really important first step to understanding each other a little bit better,” she said. “It’s a brief idea, and I think it’s a fitting one.”
The bill was introduced in the House and was sponsored by Rep. Jim Allen. It passed the House’s three readings and was sent to the Senate. During discussion in the Senate’s education committee, the bill passed without anyone speaking against it, Ellis said, calling it an “extraordinary moment.”
Some lawmakers questioned whether the bill was needed and whether legislators in Cheyenne should be telling educators how to teach their classes.
Sen. Ogden Driskill, a Devils Tower Republican, said he thought the bill was “a great cause” but said he would vote against it because he didn’t support the premise of dictating curriculum. He said he similarly voted against a bill that would’ve made CPR training a graduation requirement.
But Case responded that the material wouldn’t have to be exhaustive. Wyoming PBS created a series of educational videos last year using state money, and they could be used in the classroom, he said.
“A couple of hours in K through 12?” he asked. “That is not overdoing it.”
Monday was the final day the bill could’ve been considered by lawmakers. It now goes to another reading by the Senate. Brown said she knew the bill wasn’t all the way through the legislative process but said she still couldn’t contain her excitement and joy, both for what it means now and what it will mean for future generations.
“It’s like a stepping stone to a positive future for my children,” she said, “for my grandchildren, for everybody in the state of Wyoming, for everybody’s children and grandchildren.”
Follow education reporter Seth Klamann on Twitter @SethKlamann