Dissatisfaction with the treatment of indigenous peoples in Iowa City and the Iowa City Community School District has come to light after several parents wrote a letter detailing their negative experiences in the city and school district.
A letter to members of the Iowa City Community School District and the Iowa City government detailing experiences of cultural appropriation, racism, and discrimination against Indigenous peoples the package for Tuesday’s meeting of the Human Rights Commission.
Six of the letter’s authors, who described themselves as “members of the Iowa City Indigenous community,” called for changes in both the city and school district regarding the treatment of Native Americans.
“It is our schools’ duty to educate our children with truth and compassion, and this city’s duty to stand up for justice and end racism.” “When our children are taught false narratives in school and city-sanctioned activities, it harms them. If they are exposed to disrespectful behavior, that behavior will be normalized.”
The letter said that despite the school district’s and city’s intent to avoid anti-Indigenous activity, the structure of current teaching methods, which the group describes as a “non-Indigenous framework,” does not allow people to see the influence of to understand their beliefs and actions for children and people in the city and school district.
Furthermore, this exposure to “anti-indigenous racism” will harm all children, the letter said.
“For much of the racism we need to address is racism of ignorance, not malice, and a first step will be to clarify instances of racism that may not be recognized as such,” the letter reads.
Included in the letter are nine testimonies describing various negative experiences that members of the group have had in the Iowa City Community School District and in Iowa City.
The Iowa City Community School District’s curriculum faces setbacks
Testimony from Eloisa Roach, a member of the Shawnee Tribe and a student at Iowa City City High School, says that while she was a student at South East Junior High School in 2019, she was set to design a colony, which she describes as a historically inaccurate one assignment.
“We were told it was set in 1620 so as not to have to concern ourselves with slavery issues, which of course is not historically accurate, but my teacher’s reasoning,” Roach wrote. “When I expressed my unease about the idea of starting a colony where we would have to steal Native American land to make it, my teacher said the land was already settled and land stealing was not a problem.”
Roach goes on to describe how she was given an alternate assignment after repeatedly explaining her problems with the assignment but having to endure classmates who said the solution to the colony problem was to kill the native peoples in the area at the time.
“I didn’t feel comfortable talking about it with my teacher, and those same classmates kept making snide comments that my teacher didn’t address throughout the year, even if he was aware of it,” she wrote. “I remember my teacher frequently reprimanding students for speaking during his lectures, but he never addressed the overtly discriminatory things they said.”
In the same class, Roach wrote that she had repeatedly experienced discrimination in various forms during the week that they learned from Iindigenous peoples of North Americaincluding:
- Classmates loud and “falsely imitating traditional/powwow singing”.
- People scoff at ceremonial and cultural songs without interruption from the teacher.
- Watching “stereotyped and inaccurate video” about five indigenous tribes with over-generalized information.
Parents are upset with Iowa City schools elementary school
Sikowis Nobiss, member of Plains Cree/Saulteaux of the George Gordon First Nation wrote in testimony that she was upset by a recent performance at Shimek Elementary School about indigenous culture.
“I proudly dressed my daughter in her bow tie, braid and hair tie only to be disappointed and disrespected. I had to watch as the kids “played Indian” demonstrating our sacred drum routines while singing gibberish and dancing into the room like they were at a powwow,” Nobiss wrote.
After the event, Nobiss, also commissioner for the Iowa City Truth and Reconciliation Commission and executive director of the Great Plains Action Society, discovered that the performance was inspired by a book that encourages students to “drum, sing, whatever comes to mind.” come and dance”. It was also inspired by a video of a powwow the kids saw in class.
“First, drumming is sacred and like prayer. People sitting on a grandfather drum must be in a certain mental state and place in life in order to pray in this way. Seeing kids singing gibberish and banging sticks on a snare drum and playing a big plastic drum was hard to watch,” Nobiss wrote.
Nobiss was troubled by the dancing and drumming because she felt it erased the meaning and cultural significance of the dances. Nobiss added that prior to the performance, she offered to serve as an advisor on indigenous issues for the school district and those of the district Diversity and Cultural Responsiveness Committee.
Additionally, Nobiss described an experience — also at Shimek Elementary School — in the letter, in which she told her son’s teacher not to teach about Thanksgiving and Columbus in his presence as she plans to pull him out of class.
However, when Nobiss picked her son up around Thanksgiving time, she found that the teacher had made a chalkboard with pictures of “pilgrims, Indians, teepees and tomahawks” on it.
“She taught them the wrong mythology about Thanksgiving after I told her not to do it when my son was around. This is the type of racism that is insidious and sanctioned by the state and the school system itself, and it is what is causing ongoing violence and the annihilation of my people,” she wrote.
Nobiss’ final report card included her son’s fourth grade social studies textbook, which began with a depiction of a ship arriving at a shoreline and then building on already empty land that was there.
“Of course we know this is wrong and it is yet another attempt to whitewash and erase the history and legacy of indigenous peoples on this continent,” Nobiss wrote. “That’s what I would call propaganda, planted in the minds of our children for them to grow up and do the same. I complained about it and nothing was done about it.”
Other parents in the Iowa City Community School District have identified problems with programs run in elementary schools.
Alicia Velasquez, member of Chiricahua Apache and owner of the House of Dotł’izhi in Iowa City, and Daniel Velasquez, a member of Pascua Yaqui and owner of South Side Street Foods in Iowa City, wrote about a November 2022 experience at Mann Elementary School.
School at the end of the program performed powwow music that included drums and singing, with the kids “encouraged to move their bodies like an interpretive dance to the music,” Alicia Velasquez and Daniel Velasquez wrote.
“This is problematic because there is a specific way, based on long-held cultural and traditional beliefs, of how we dance to certain songs, and a ‘white’ interpretation is offensive and takes things back into our own hands,” they wrote .
Also, Alicia Velasquez and Daniel Velasquez wrote that they were upset after the teacher in charge of the program said she had emailed local Aborigines asking for advice, but Nobiss was not consulted.
Parents Concerned About Iowa City Football Team Name
Marie Krebs, member of Apache and Commissioner of Iowa City’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, wrote a testimony about her experience signing her son up to play football in Iowa City’s RedZone League in 2019.
“He was assigned to the Redskins team. Redskin is a racial slur used against indigenous peoples,” Krebs wrote. “I’ve been in touch via email and phone to discuss this with someone in the league. I was completely ignored. Nobody answered. I spent a football season not knowing how to cheer for my son’s football team, sitting around with people shouting racial slurs.”
Krebs also wrote in her statement that she disagreed with the performances at various elementary schools in late 2022 that Nobiss and the Velasquez family detailed.
“Non-Indians playing Indians are a mockery of ceremonial ways. After the colonial invasion, laws had to be passed to allow these ceremonies to be held by any nation. The American Indian Religious Freedom Act was passed in 1978,” she wrote.
The letter ends with a call to action for the city and the Iowa City Community School District to recognize that the problems are the result of ignorance and to change in the following ways:
- All teachers and affiliated teachers will receive the book, Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Yearswhich they say will help the school district teach Native American history more accurately.
- Conduct annual anti-racism training for Iowa City Community School District staff and teachers and City of Iowa City staff and supervisors aimed at understanding Indigenous Peoples
- Iowa City is investing in an Indigenous Peoples Day celebration, similar to the Iowa City Latino Fest or Juneteenth
The letter was supported by another letter prepared by the Iowa City Ad Hoc Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which recommended that the City of Iowa City and the Iowa City Community School District comply with community members’ demands.
“The commission also recommends that city officials and ICCSD leaders meet with the letter Authors for more collaboration on how best to perform these actions to include input from Members of the indigenous community are moving forward,” the ad said Letter from the Hoc Truth and Reconciliation Commission given.
The Daily Iowan reached out to the Iowa City Community School District and the City of Iowa City for comment, but did not receive an immediate response as of Tuesday night.