Southampton public schools officials and members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation are collaborating to create a curriculum about the tribe’s culture and history, decades after Shinnecock children began attending district schools.
The curriculum will be introduced in Southampton Elementary School in the fall and phased into the intermediate school and high school over the next two years, school officials said. It will bring elements of Shinnecock culture to all subjects and classes, including science, math and gym.
Project officials said they want to raise awareness and reverse stereotypes.
“They need to know we are a vibrant, living people and how much we contributed to the colonists’ survival and how much we contribute to society today,” said Josephine Smith, director of cultural resources for Shinnecock Nation.
School officials approached Shinnecock members about the curriculum after dozens of people asked the school board not to honor Columbus Day in the school calendar last year because they said Christopher Columbus and Europeans led directly and indirectly to the deaths of thousands of Native Americans through disease and other means.
This year, school officials approved a calendar that did not officially recognize any religious holiday or Columbus Day.
“Look how unique this school district is. That’s a part of what’s fueling this,” said Roberta Hunter, school board president and a Shinnecock member.
Shinnecocks have been attending the district’s schools since the 1950s. The district receives $3.2 million from the state annually to educate Shinnecock children, who make up about 7 percent of the district’s 1,692 students. About 20 of 240 staffers are Shinnecock.
New York State requires schools to teach about Native Americans, but most of the curriculum is about upstate tribes. Southampton would be one of the first districts to focus on Long Island’s indigenous people.
Southampton schools already have Shinnecock-oriented lessons and activities, including an annual mini powwow, but none of them are part of the formal curriculum.
“We want to make sure all those things are done every year,” said Lisa Bowen, a Southampton Elementary School librarian and Shinnecock member. “We don’t want them to go away.”
School officials said they want to teach about protecting the environment and hope to eventually have the Shinnecock language, which has long been considered extinct by historians, count as a foreign language requirement.
District specialists will work with Shinnecock members to tailor each grade’s curriculum to meet state standards, Superintendent Nicholas Dyno said. The project will be funded by some of the $20,000 set aside for curriculum revamps, which happen every six years.
Smith said she wants Southampton residents to know “we’re still here,” to “acknowledge” the local history and to stop being afraid of the Shinnecock.
“We’re still going to fight for who we are,” Smith said.
Science class: Test the quality of water in the Shinnecock Bay and how the size of a bean inside a clamshell rattle changes its sound.
Math class: Count out how many different beads of certain colors are needed to create a pattern in beadwork.
Art class: Design a belt of wampum online using strings of beads made from polished shell. Draw the Great Seal of the Shinnecock Indian Nation.