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What will ‘Indigenous Education for All’ look like?

(Courtesy of Dream of Wild Health)

This past session the Minnesota legislature enacted “Indigenous Education for All,” which requires educating all students in Minnesota about its eleven tribal nations. But what exactly will be taught has yet to be determined.

Hope Flanagan is a cultural teacher at the Dream of Wild Health farm who understands firsthand the importance of retaining the land’s legacy. She teaches youth about the languages and ideologies of Indigenous people. Flanagan is of the Seneca tribe and Turtle Clan. Turtle Clan people are regarded as keepers of the land. She takes pride in her work on the farm, whose mission is to restore health and well-being to Native communities by recovering knowledge of and access to healthy Indigenous foods, medicines and lifeways.

Flanagan says she is hopeful about the Indigenous Education for All act. But she says it would require an entire shift in worldview to properly understand and convey the importance of the land to Indigenous people.

“When non-native folks got here, it was more like, ‘we've got authority over the land, and we have authority over all these living beings,’ and they didn't realize that, no, you're just a part of it. You don't have authority over anything. You certainly don't have authority over the climate, you don't have authority over food production, you don't have authority over the water,” said Flanagan. “So in the language, we're always being reminded of that. That there's the creator and the creation all around us. When you speak in Ojibwe, you can't really speak without knowing what's alive and what's not alive because the whole sentence structure changes when you start talking about animate versus inanimate. There's an openness to not being so human centric, and that we're all interconnected, which is what science is finally truly understanding. We truly are all interconnected. I think that’s a difficult concept that we're just coming into in this society, because it doesn't fit with manifest destiny.”

Flanagan says schools must teach how Indigenous people lived in relation to the land, and also why that way of life was disrupted. With the 1837 and 1854 treaties, the Dakota and Ojibwe bands in Minnesota gave up tribal territories to the United States. In exchange the tribes were promised goods, services, cash payments, and access to the land for hunting, fishing and the harvesting of wild rice. But the US did not honor the agreement; instead, the tribes were forced off the land and faced genocide.

“The two major tribes in the state of Minnesota are Dakota and Ojibwe. There was a Ho-chunk federally recognized tribe at one point, but they lost their land during the Great Sioux uprising. That's the time that the Dakota people were chased out of the state of Minnesota. And that's still on the books that it's illegal to be Dakota in the state of Minnesota. So people don't always recognize that not only were the Dakota people chased out of their homeland, but the land - like St. Paul and Minneapolis - [was] never paid for. Nobody ever received compensation for what they said was going to happen in the treaties. And then the people were chased out of the state. And there were bounties put on people's heads. So that's an important thing to mention when you think about what is the history of Minnesota? It's not a gentle history. It's a challenging, difficult history.”

Flanagan says in a society that is economically driven rather than environmentally driven, there may be some resistance to the teaching of original Indigenous ways.

“I think people are realizing that when you don't take care of the water, you don't take care of the air, you don't take care of the food, they no longer take care of us. And certainly you can see that with climate change with the lack of nutrition in the current food system, and the challenges in the water–-the challenges in the air. I think what we can see is the addiction to money.” said Flanagan. “You can't eat money. You can't drink money. The gifts really are clean water, clean food, clean air, and clean soil. You've got to have clean water, clean food, clean air, clean soil.”

Ultimately, Flanagan says the state education program should teach how Indigenous people view what it means to be human. She says if the program can do that and highlight the presence of those still fighting continued oppression – despite the attempted erasure of their culture – the program will succeed at honoring the legacy of Indigenous people on Indigenous land.

The Minnesota Department of Education is currently gathering feedback from the community on what the Indigenous education standards should include. Those interested have until Sept 22 to submit their ideas. The MDE anticipates that the full integration of this program won’t take effect until 2025.

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