Indigenous scholar reflects on decolonizing the curriculum
New assistant professor and member of the Lumbee tribe reflects on integrating indigenous people's history into curriculum
October 10, 2022
Brittany Hunt, a member of the Lumbee tribe and new assistant professor of education in the Virginia Tech School of Education, reflects on Indigenous people’s place in the curriculum.
“Indigenous people actually created the first compulsory public school system,” Hunt said, “Indigenous people have been educating youth for thousands of years, and education is a cornerstone of our belief systems .”
Hunt grew up in Robeson County, North Carolina, and has a longstanding history of activism for the Native community.
“My work started as an undergrad at Duke, continued on when I was working at UNC, and when I was a graduate student at UNC Chapel Hill as well. While I was there, there was an American Indian Center. And so it totally transformed my thinking for the possibilities of indigenous led efforts at universities,” Hunt said. “Having your own center is a really powerful thing for indigenous students.”
Indigenous people are often excluded from discussions of history, relegating them to a painful part of the past.
“Most of the time what you learn about Indigenous people in schools is Columbus, Thanksgiving, and then you learn about the Trail of Tears, and then that's it,” Hunt said.
And this has real world consequences for Indigenous people, including feeling they aren’t an important part of modern America, or people believing they’re part of a group that either no longer exists, or who all live the same way they did during those era.
“People say very weird things to me. Like one person was shocked that I wore shoes. One person thought I lived in a teepee. One person asked me if I made the clothes that I had on.”
Despite these experiences, Hunt believes that we are making meaningful progress in education about Indigenous peoples, including online and in media.
“There's a really popular show out right now called Reservation Dogs, which is about four Indigenous teens,” Hunt said, “Most of the time native TV shows that end up getting put out there, are very trauma focused, focused on these traumatic events that Indigenous people have endured. But that show is very much about indigenous joy and happiness and just kids doing kids stuff.”
There are some states that she thinks are going a good job at decolonizing their curriculum. “Montana has a program called Indigenous Education for All, and they've made it mandatory that indigenous curriculum be infused into all curriculum and within their state,” Hunt said.
She also believes celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day is part of that.
“Indigenous Peoples Day is a step towards righting the wrongs done to Indigenous people, particularly in celebrating Columbus. It is a celebration of Indigenous joy, resilience, innovation, and strength,” Hunt said.
Hunt looks forward to starting a new course at Virginia Tech on Indigenous history, and to sharing her experience as an indeginous person with students.
“I look forward to bringing Indigenous perspectives to the classroom regardless of what courses that I'm teaching,” Hunt said.
Written by Alexandra Krens