Donate to the Museum

Session 2: Education

The goal is to ensure that American Indian students attain increasing levels of educational success—that they achieve, with all students, to challenging standards which will usher them, prepared and motivated, into a vibrant future. This goal "is" attainable. It is essential that schools, with the help of their Title IX staff and the American Indian communities, capitalize now on the opportunities afforded them as part of the extensive nationwide school reform initiatives that are underway.

—Dr. Jo Ann Chavis Lowery, 2000 Closing the Gap Conference Session:
American Indian Students—Surviving in a High School That Works—a K-12 Effort

"Respect and Encourage the Individual”: Learning among the Lumbee

Keri Towery
The following article appeared in Tar Heel Junior Historian 37 (fall 1997), 36–37.

Native Americans have very different views about learning and teaching than other population groups in the United States. Their children learn to respect individuals and to encourage the talents of each individual. They learn that they have individual purposes within their communities—their family, clan, tribe, and nation.

Native Americans agree that formal education is necessary because if provides skills that are needed to get jobs. But most Native Americans also agree that today’s non-Indian schools take the Indian identity away from their children, and that they separate Native American children from their Indian communities and cultures.

Traditional Native American learning Many Native Americans believe that modern American schools do not give individuals a sense of purpose in the world: Children are separated by age. They are not respected as unique individuals. They are told what to learn and when to learn it. They are more inclined to believe in one great body of knowledge and skills that everyone should learn.

On the other hand, traditional Native American education presents knowledge as part of a unified whole: It allows children to take control over their own learning and, in fact, makes them responsible for that learning. It allows them to believe that no one person knows everything, and that the knowledge of each person contributes to the knowledge of the entire community. Children are taught through informal learning—through example, storytelling, and observation.

In traditional Native American learning, community elders and grandparents are responsible for raising and educating children. They work to discover the gifts and talents of each child and then encourage each child to use those gifts and talents. The Lumbee of Robeson County have traditionally emphasized a strong grandparent-grandchild relationship in order to educate and to assist their young in becoming productive citizens.

In the early 1900s, Native Americans could not attend schools for whites or schools for blacks. Some who wanted a formal education went away to private boarding schools, where the first step to learning was to deny their native traditions, customs, and beliefs. Some, however, chose to attend one of the new state-funded "Indian" schools like the Croatan Normal School in Robeson County [pictured here] or the New Bethel Indian School in Sampson County. After many name changes and a move, the Croatan Normal School evolved into Pembroke State University and later the University of North Carolina at Pembroke—the first four-year college for Native Americans in the United States.

Traditional learning and the North Carolina Lumbee

The Lumbee have been farmers in and around Robeson County for over two hundred years. They have their own distinct culture, language, and tradition. Traditionally, most Lumbee children have been raised on family farms by their extended families.

Among the Lumbee, grandparents play a key part in a child’s overall development. Grandparents are often responsible for taking care of children while their parents are at work and are therefore able to spend a lot of time with them. This traditional relationship between grandparents and their grandchildren is very important to the tribal society of the Lumbee because it allows elderly members to feel needed, while children are treated with love and acceptance.

The grandparents usually allow children to start making their own decisions when they are between five and ten years old. Lumbee children are also allowed to make their own mistakes. The grandparents do this so that children will learn to take responsibility for their actions early in life.

Today’s system of modern American education directly opposes these traditional ways. Lumbee parents prefer for their children to be raised and educated in a close-knit family where they are loved and treated as individuals.

Throughout the last two decades, an awareness of the traditional grandparent-grandchild relationship among the Lumbee has once again become increasingly popular. The Lumbee want to restore that relationship to their society because it allows their children to learn by traditional and informal ways—observing, imitating, and practicing. Those ways allow the children to use the advice of their elders to learn their place in their community; to know the importance of spirituality, service, culture, tradition, and history; and to be adventurous, explorative, and investigative, as well as to accept responsibility for their actions.

Haliwa-Saponi Tribal School

Beth Crist

On August 4, 2000, sixty-nine children near Hollister, Warren County, began their school year at a new elementary school. Although the start of school is a common occurrence, these students, their teachers, and the school’s administrators were embarking on an exciting path. This was their first day at Haliwa-Saponi Tribal School.

The Haliwa-Saponi tribe envisioned a charter school that would bring together all students from the tribal community, which straddles Warren and Halifax Counties. It hoped that academic performance would improve and that adding Indian studies to the curriculum would help preserve the Haliwa-Saponi culture. The North Carolina State Board of Education approved the tribe’s application for a charter school on February 3, 2000.

The building housing the school was constructed in 1955 as a one-room structure for tribal meetings. It operated as a private Indian school beginning in 1957 and as a state-supported Indian school until 1969, later serving as a community building. The building was renovated for its new purpose largely using volunteer labor and donated materials from the community.

The Haliwa-Saponi Tribal School opened with just four more students than the state-required sixty-five. The school board, which diligently enrolled students, proudly displays the number sixty-five on one of its school buses. “The number sixty-five is symbolic because that is the exact number of children we had to have in order to open the school, and it is also the year that the Haliwa-Saponi were recognized as a tribe by the state,” said Principal Ogletree Richardson, a retired educator with Warren County Schools. The school accepts children in kindergarten through eighth grade and has a current enrollement of 130 students. The board hopes to add one grade each year until the school offers instruction in all twelve grades.

The school follows the state’s Standard Course of Study and integrates American Indian studies into lesson plans. Teachers invite tribal members “to read to the children, talk with them and demonstrate crafts and culture,” Richardson said. The school differs from traditional schools in the order in which subjects are taught. Students focus on academics in the morning and on the arts and American Indian studies in the afternoon. As is typical of small charter schools, students have more responsibility for their education and classrooms. The school’s third-grade students, for example, chose their own classroom rules, which include being ready, being on time, and respecting oneself and others.

Cynthia Silver, chair of the school’s board of education, attended the first Haliwa-Saponi Tribal School. “The school’s opening day reminded me of when I went to school here—a small school, a neighborhood school,” she said. “We hope to capture that feeling again by getting parents involved. That’s what we’re about, getting that community feeling.”

Profile of the Past: W.L. Moore

Becky Goins
The author wrote the article that follows for the North Carolina Biography Project.

The years following Reconstruction were especially hard for the Indians of Robeson County, North Carolina. Though the 1868 State Constitution provided for some measure of racial equality, it did little to improve the state of affairs for Indians. Years of discrimination and treatment as inferior citizens had taken their toll. Illiteracy rates within the Indian community were extremely high. The Indian people of Robeson County began to realize that the only hope they had of improving their status was to establish a school of their own.

In 1885 state representative Hamilton McMillan brought before the General Assembly legislation that would establish separate schools for Indian people that they would run themselves. The legislation also recognized the Indians of Robeson County, giving them a legal identity, and the bill was ratified on February 10, 1885.

Though they now had legislation granting them their own schools, no schools were immediately established. The community realized that something more needed to be done. They needed a leader. They found the Reverend Moore.

William Luther Moore (a Waccamaw-Siouan Indian) was born on October 12, 1857, in Columbus County, North Carolina. As one of the thirteen children of James and Carolina Spaulding Moore, W. L. was raised with a deep appreciation for religion and education. At the age of seventeen and after completing a four-year theological course in Columbus County, he began teaching in the Columbus County schools. Five years later he moved to Robeson County to teach. It was there that he met and in 1879 married Mary Catherine Oxendine, who would later become the first Indian woman to teach in public schools. They settled in the Prospect community, where they raised a family of five children. In 1885 W. L. was ordained at Prospect Church which he would go on to pastor for 44 years.

In February of 1887 Moore and 72 others signed a petition they delivered to the General Assembly that stated: “We the under-signed Croatan Indians of Robeson County in North Carolina, do respectfully ask, that you establish for us, a Normal School in Robeson County for our race.” The bill was enacted in March of that same year and gave the control of the institution to a board of seven trustees that included Moore. The school was given $500 that could only be used to pay teachers while the community was required to provide a suitable facility and provide the supplies needed to maintain the school.

Because of the unstable political climate of the area, many Indian people were skeptical of the legislation and were reluctant to contribute to the funding efforts. Moore, however, saw the potential of the school for the community and immediately dedicated himself to raising the necessary funds. He headed a subscription drive to which he donated $200 of his own money. Because of his efforts and dedication the community began to come together, donating supplies and labor to build the one-room school. The Croatan Indian Normal School opened its doors in the fall of 1887 with an enrollment of fifteen students. Moore was the first principal and only teacher of the school for the first three years at a salary of $62.50 per month. 

By 1889 factionalism within the religious community began to affect the progress of the school. The Methodist community was divided between those wishing to maintain their affiliation with national Methodism and those wishing to form an all-Indian conference. Moore led those wishing to remain with the national organization. A campaign was mounted to discredit Moore. As a result of the split, people began to lose faith in the school. To minimize any damage to the school or its progress Hamilton McMillan recommended that Moore be replaced as head of the school and he left in 1889, turning the school over to Ezera Bauder, although he remained associated in an unofficial capacity. In 1890 Moore petitioned Congress and the Office of Indian Affairs to appropriate additional funding for Indian school. His petition was denied.

By 1905 Moore had initiated training sessions for teachers with the help of D. F. Lowry, the first graduate of what was now known as the Normal School. Teachers were required to attend a one-week session during the school term and a two-week session during the summer. The sessions included classes on the importance of libraries in public schools, the importance of reading and how to identify the teaching of arithmetic within life. As a result of the sessions the Lumbee teachers formed a professional association. (In 1953, the tribal name was officially changed to Lumbee to more appropriately identify the Indians of Robeson County. The names “Croatan” and “Cherokee” were given to the Indians by non-Indian legislators. Lumbee is the name the Indians of Robeson County used to describe themselves.)

Moore was a leader in the community both in education and religion. He helped to start or rebuild six churches and ministered for over 50 years. He served as president of the Methodist Protestant Churches in the Robeson County area. He died December 22, 1930 and in 1951 Moore Hall was dedicated in recognition of his many contributions to the school. Moore was memorialized as a man “devoted to making the world a better place to live in.”

By the late 1960s, Old Main, built in 1923 and the oldest brick building on the campus of Pembroke State University (later UNC-Pembroke), had fallen into disuse and disrepair. The Lumbee college president proposed demolishing the building, but other Indians organized to protest its destruction. They considered Old Main a direct connection to the institution’s beginnings as a normal school for Indians in 1887, with historical, cultural, and social importance to the community. The protest began when Danford Dial and other Lumbee marched at the building, and it gained strength within both the Lumbee and Tuscarora communities. Janie Maynor Locklear and others worked for support throughout North Carolina, and the push to save Old Main eventually became a political issue, drawing support from candidates for state public offices. During the campaign, the building burned under suspicious circumstances in 1973. It was restored and expanded in 1979 to house the Museum of the Native American Resource Center, the Department of American Indian Studies, and other university offices

Profile of the Present: Kara Stewart and Dorothy Crowe

Kara Stewart
Kara Stewart, a reading resource teacher and a member of the Sappony tribe, contributed the following article.

Working for the North Carolina public school system has been an enlightening challenge for me. While my own children were in the lower elementary grades in Connecticut and I was not associated with the schools, I realized through their school-day instructional activities about Indians that some teachers were behind the times on the topic and largely bought into the “Hollywood Indian” stereotype—the view long furthered by western movies, books, and cartoons of tall, bronze-skinned, black-haired warriors complete with decorative furs, feathers and war paint, living in tipis, riding horses, scalping white men and screaming war whoops while Indian women scuttle among yelping dogs scraping buffalo hides. We are all familiar with Hollywood’s view of Indians and even learned it in school, where it was purported to be an accurate historical representation of a race of people, although nothing could be further from the truth.

My parents taught me that the Hollywood Indian stereotype was not true. I assumed as I grew up that other people also knew that the cartoon, movie, novel, and textbook portrayal of Indians was inaccurate. I assumed that when all children played cowboys and Indians, they thought the cowboys were the bad guys, as my sister and I did. I was wrong! It was not until I became employed in the schools that I realized how widespread the problem is of inaccurate representation of Indians. Most teachers I’ve worked with still fall prey to the old Hollywood Indian stereotype. What today’s teachers were taught about Indians during their own school days is what they will portray to their students until they become reeducated.

Not only are generations of students being taught historical and cultural information that is simply wrong about Native Americans, but Native American children in the classroom, whom teachers may or may not be aware of since many blend in and do not declare themselves, are being negatively affected by misinformation and stereotypes. Aside from it being unconscionable to teach untruths about Native Americans to white, black, Asian, and Hispanic children, as well as to Native American children, it also makes a huge impact on the issues of today’s Indian youth: high national drop out rates and identity crises. It is important to note that it is also an untruth to simply leave out a category of information about Indians, such as when students are only given information about historical Indians, yet no information about contemporary Indians. And let’s face it—all of Indian culture around us today is contemporary Indian culture! Yet this huge Native American culture that exists today is virtually ignored in the schools. Teachers wouldn’t dream of teaching African American history up to the point of emancipation and then letting the subject drop with no further information, as if all African Americans had died out or vanished. But unfortunately, most teachers teach about Native Americans up to the “buffalo days,” with no further information about Indians beyond that time.

The Sappony reside on the communal borders of Person County, North Carolina, and Halifax County, Virginia. Families in this community have placed great value on education, from opening a school in a room of the Indian church in 1878 to establishing the High Plains Indian School in 1911. This Indian school operated for over fifty years, with funding from Virginia and North Carolina. With the advent of school desegregation, the High Plains Indian School closed in 1962 and its student population was reassigned to other Person County schools.

Dorothy Crowe, an educator in the Person County schools for twenty-four years now teaching seventh-grade math, is chairperson for The Indians of Person County (now known as the Sappony). She attended the High Plains Indian School and was reassigned to Person County schools, and so has a unique perspective, both as an Indian and an educator, on teaching about and to Indians.

While Crowe and other Indian students were well accepted at their new schools, she remembers it being “hard to sit in social studies classes and hear history presentations on Indians knowing that I didn’t fit in that realm [the stereotypical Indian], but I knew I was Indian. The information that they went over in school just didn’t fit us.” Of that disparity, Crowe says, “We just didn’t have a voice in many things.” The teachers were not going to stop teaching the Hollywood Indian despite the Indian children sitting in their classrooms proving the standard Hollywood Indian inaccurate. I, also, can remember feeling self-conscious and puzzled while my teachers “did Indians.” I was uncomfortable with the images routinely taught of Native Americans as violent savages and also with the more romantic image of mystical warrior people. Neither image coincided with what I knew to be fact about actual people in my family. The two images may appear disparate, but both are actually rooted in misinformation and stereotypes.

Although the change from the Indian school to the white public schools was monumental for most of the Indian children in Person County, Crowe and the other children were accepted well at their new schools. Although being Indian was “neither an advantage nor a disadvantage” for Crowe as a student, she felt the sting of economic hardship. The lack of career and educational opportunities given to Indians created economic stagnation and instability, a chronic difficulty in the community.

As concerns educating all of today’s students about Indians, and North Carolina Indians in particular, Ms. Crowe says, “We still, sadly to say, have students that go through even the fourth grade—the North Carolina study—and don’t have a good sense of who the Indian tribes are in North Carolina.” While fourth-grade curriculum covers North Carolina studies, there is often scant or conflicting information about North Carolina’s eight state-recognized tribes. In addition to fourth- and eighth-grade studies, this information needs to be a natural extension of teaching about Native Americans at any grade level.

As I give classroom presentations, teachers are surprised at how ingrained the Hollywood Indian stereotype is. Typically, the Indian groups that students can name are two: woodland and plains. When I ask students what jobs Native Americans have today, I am told basket making and hunting. When I ask how many Native Americans are in North Carolina today, they answer, “Five? Fifty? One hundred?” (According to the 2010 census, there are 123,961 or 1.3 percent of the state’s total population, with the Eastern Band of the Cherokee being the only tribe residing on a reservation. According to that same census, there are 2,932,248 American Indians across the United States today.)

This homogenizing of Native Americans is a good example of misinformation furthering the Hollywood Indian stereotype. You can no more teach about foreigners than about Indians. You can no more teach about woodland and plains Indians than about Europeans. Are the cold, rocky forests of Maine like the coasts of North Carolina? Of course not. Yet, somehow, dissimilar people with dissimilar language, housing, food, clothing, and cultural needs are lumped together as woodland Indians. Just as it is necessary to break down the separate groups of Europeans and discuss their similarities and differences, it is also necessary to name the Indian groups you are studying. Are you studying the Penobscot? Mohawk? Hopi? Navajo? Tlingit? Cherokee?

Additionally, it is necessary to accurately name the time period of focus. Because students receive little or no information on contemporary Indians, it becomes vital to place your lessons in time to give students a point of reference and let them know that historical aspects are not applicable to today’s Indian culture. Teachers do not need to inform students that white people today don’t wear Pilgrim attire and that African American people today are not slaves because students see evidence of that around them every day. However, teachers do need to inform students that Native Americans do not live now as they did historically, because the evidence of that is not obvious to students or teachers every day.

Because of the glut of Hollywood Indian stereotypes, the number of years we’ve all been exposed to them, and their pervasiveness, it becomes necessary to accurately emphasize contemporary Native American life in order to give students a complete, balanced picture of Native Americans. I like the idea of focusing on several groups across the country and following their histories through time, bringing them current with today’s culture. Parallels can be drawn to other American groups, and it gives students a picture of contemporary Indians.

Crowe’s recommendations for teachers are in keeping with the State Advisory Council on Indian Education’s recommendations to the State Board of Education in its 2001 report on Indian Education, Pathways to the 21st Century, which recommends:

The Department of Public Instruction provide local school districts guidelines in identifying and implementing model programs and strategies designed to help teachers become more aware of how their interactions with students determine students’ level of participation and students’ motivation to remain in school; and, the State Board of Education continue to support and provide additional resources to those local school districts that implement effective strategies that are research-based.

Crowe concedes that educators’ loads are heavy but adds, “Teachers need to be educated. . . . We have educators that are not aware of the present-day Indian situation at all.” She believes that the decision to educate teachers must be made and actively pursued by each Local Education Agency (LEA), and each LEA must be committed to including Indian education in their systems, along with education that is already given to teachers about other culturally diverse groups, such as the Hispanic and African American populations. Indians cannot continue to be left out of this training. Crowe contends that LEAs must begin to include Indian topics in their cultural diversity training for educators, particularly for those who teach North Carolina history in the fourth and eighth grades. “Those people have got to know the real stories!” she says.

Check out Kara Stewart's blog "Indian 101 for Writers":

Related Links

American Indian Education
Northern Arizona University produces this page, which contains articles and directories about Indian education.

Journal of American Indian Education
The Journal of American Indian Education is a peer-reviewed scholarly journal, which publishes papers specifically related to the education of American Indians and Alaska Natives. Its website provides full text of past volumes.

History of Indian Education
The American Indian Education Foundation provides this history of American Indian education since 1776.

National Indian Education Association
The National Indian Education Association was founded in 1969 to give American Indians and Alaska Natives a national voice in their struggle to improve access to educational opportunity.

Avoiding Stereotypes

Erasing Native American Stereotypes
The Anthropology Outreach Office of the Smithsonian Institution offers questions that provide educators with ways to evaluate their own teaching and criteria to evaluate the materials they use

Techniques for Evaluating American Indian Websites
A librarian at the University of Arizona compiled these tips on American Indian website evaluation.

Unbiased Teaching about American Indians and Alaska Natives in Elementary Schools
This short essay lists and dispels common myths about American Indians and includes teaching tips and a bibliography.

Assignment 2

Complete one of the following options:

Option 1 (Choose this option if you are seeking reading credits.)
Create an evaluation checklist to use when choosing reading materials on American Indians (and other minority groups, if you like) for your students to avoid stereotypes and biased information. See Kara Stewart's handout in this workshop and the websites under "Avoiding Stereotypes" in the list of websites above for tips and information.

Option 2
Write a response to Kara Stewart’s article, at least one page in length, incorporating answers to the following questions:

  • Do you think students today have stereotypical perceptions of American Indians? Give examples.
  • Do you think schools today reinforce, or do nothing to eliminate, stereotypes of American Indians? Why or why not?

Option 3
Interview an American Indian about his or her formal and informal educational experiences. Include the following questions:

  • How and what were you taught at home?
  • Did you encounter racism at school? 
  • Were stereotypes about American Indians taught in the classroom? 
  • What and how should children—both Indian and non-Indian—learn about Indians in school, at home, and through the media?

Submit your completed assignment via e-mail to:

Previous | Home | Next >