Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

Why is Texas pausing Native American studies course?

Sunday, April 14, 2024

We can’t sanitize history for either side.

The history of our country cannot be told without accounting for the reality that Native American people were violently pushed from their lands in the long westward march of American settlement.

To say that is simply to state a truth about our nation. But that truth is so disquieting that we worry it is the reason why, once again, the State Board of Education is delaying approval of an American Indian/ Native Studies course in Texas schools The board’s chairman, Aaron Kinsey of Midland, said the course approval is being delayed to provide more time to review its curriculum. And longtime board member Pat Hardy said there needs to be more balance in the course with a focus not only on the mistreatment and enslavement of Native people by European settlers and their descendants but on intertribal enslavement.

There is no question that the long pre-colonial history of Native peoples included violence, war and enslavement. And that remained true well after white settlers began staking claim to tribal land. In Texas, we can tell the tale through the ascendance of the powerful Comanche tribe after their mastery of the horse. That history has been well told in many places, including in our former colleague S.C. Gwynne’s excellent and unsentimental book Empire of the Summer Moon.

Like any serious history, Gwynne’s work addresses the violence the Comanche wrought on other tribes as well as on white settlers. He neither condones nor condemns this but writes it as the history has it.

But his work appropriately focuses more deeply on the greater narrative of the decimation and forced assimilation of tribal people as a result of the Manifest Destiny policies of the American government. That’s the only choice of a serious historian, because that is where history takes us.

Some practitioners of what’s known as settler colonial history do advocate for a sentimentalized version of history that creates a caricature of the facts. This is often done with a goal of politicizing students. History should be taught with a neutral eye, and if that’s the goal of the State Board of Education, it’s worth the pause.

But we’re skeptical. We are worried this is about swinging the pendulum the other way to diminish the inescapable fact that our nation, by policy and by repeated lies and an endless string of broken treaties, killed Native people and forced those who survived onto squalid reservations where they starved or scratched out the most meager lives possible far from their homelands.

We have to reckon with that history. It is terrible. It is shameful. And it is ours.

San Marcos Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666