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Indian Education Bill To Be Signed

April 17, 1998

DENVER (AP) _ This spring, Colleen Chock asked a group of college students to name the tribe that dined with the Pilgrims during the Thanksgiving feast of 1620.

Chock, the coordinator of the American Indian Education Advisory Council for Denver Public Schools, was shocked at the response: No one knew.

For many American Indians, such information gaps are a small but revealing symptom of how little Americans are taught about the hemisphere’s earliest settlers.

That may begin to change as Gov. Roy Romer was expected today to sign a measure into law that supporters hope will increase students’ awareness of American Indians.

The bill recommends that schools expand the teaching of American Indian history. Supporters of the measure say students should learn more about America’s frontier past than just the corn-and-turkey stories, the tales of Lewis and Clark, or the love story between Capt. John Smith and Pocahontas.

With the bill, Colorado joins 35 other states recommending or mandating that American Indian history be taught in schools, said Melody McCoy, staff attorney for the Boulder-based Native American Rights Fund.

Since the 1960s, Colorado law has recommended only that students be taught the history and civil government of the state and ``Spanish-American and American-Negro history.″

No mention, however, was made of American Indian history.

``If they’re going to mention other minority groups, they should at least mention the people who were here first,″ said Karen Rogers of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs.

The new law, Aurora Democratic Rep. Suzanne Williams said, ``will give the American Indians of Colorado a place in our state law. It will give them recognition that they played an important part in the past and (will) in the future as well.″

Chock hopes the bill will finally bring a greater awareness of the richness of American Indian culture.

And perhaps the correct answer to her Thanksgiving question: It was the Wampanoags, a major Northeast tribe, who shared dinner with North America’s first Protestant settlers.