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Rose Borunda: Changing the California Indian History Narrative

Borunda at Sacramento State University with a few California Indian-themed books.

2018 Innovator, California Faculty Association

Curriculum about and by California Indians that goes beyond stereotypes or onesided history books is something Rose Borunda is making readily available to teachers and students throughout California.

Borunda, a Sacramento State University professor, coordinates the California Indian History Curriculum Coalition (CIHCC), which compiles California Indian-vetted lesson plans and reading lists to augment the new standards for teaching California Indian history. Educators can go to csus.edu/coe/cic and find links to many lessons from California Indian community members, experts and educators about indigenous people of California.

“We are trying very hard to change the narrative in the classroom,” says Borunda, who teaches in the university’s counselor education/doctoral programs. “Native American history is often taught from only one perspective. And it’s not the fault of teachers, because that’s how they were taught in school. Many need to be re-educated. Our goal is to help both veteran teachers and those entering the profession.”

One of the CIHCC site links leads to a history lesson on Miwok Indians designed by Folsom Cordova Education Association member Chelsea Gaynor, a teacher at Mitchell Middle School in Rancho Cordova. Gaynor’s goal was for her students to be able to distinguish between facts, misconceptions and stereotypes. Borunda was delighted in the documentation showing students’ perspectives changed drastically after the lesson.


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“Native Americans were used in movies to show that they are savages, but in reality, Native Americans are nothing like savages but religious people that respect the Earth very much, even more than the Americans,” wrote one student in assessing the lesson.

“One Native American stereotype is that Natives Americans are very primitive … but in reality, the Indians are organized and very advanced,” wrote another.

Borunda says the evidence speaks to how children and youth, when given the opportunity to learn truth, gain greater understanding of history which, in turn, enhances their critical thinking and capacity to discern falsehoods in today’s reality.

CIHCC is behind a resolution for the state to repeal, replace and reframe the fourth-grade Mission Project, because building missions from sugar cubes or popsicle sticks does not help students understand the period in which crimes were committed against Native Americans. Borunda compares asking Native American children to build missions to asking Jewish children to build replicas of concentration camps. Those who would like to sign the resolution may do so via the website.

“Changing the narrative of how California Indian history is taught definitely makes the world a better place.”

Borunda is not California Indian, but she is indigenous to Mexico, where her ancestors who belonged to the Purepecha Tribe also suffered cruelty under the Spaniards. When a California Indian presenter at a Sacramento State-sponsored California Indian conference cried as he shared the memory of his son being told to create a mission or fail his fourth-grade class, she became inspired to coordinate alternative Native American curriculum resources for teachers.

“California tends to be more progressive than the rest of the nation, and I felt we needed to model good curriculum for the rest of our country,” says Borunda, a California Faculty Association (CFA) member.

Another goal is boosting the pride of Native American students via curriculum. They can feel overlooked, unvalued and demeaned in school, which is one of the factors exacerbating the high drop-out rate.

“Changing the way Native American history is taught can positively impact academic success for our Native students, because they will feel appreciated and validated instead of disconnected.”

The CIHCC is a collaborative effort, and Borunda works closely with fellow Sacramento State Professor and CFA member Dr. Khal Schneider, who is a professor at Sac State as well as a Tribal Citizen of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, and Gregg Castro, an activist/educator from the Salinan/Rumsien Ohlone Tribe.

The CIHCC organizes summits for California school district personnel who are interested in transforming how they teach California Indian history and culture. The next summit is slated for March 2019, and will be a strand of the 25th annual Multicultural Education Conference at Sacramento State. Details are on the website.

“I feel I am making a difference,” says Borunda. “As a college professor I am in a unique position to do that. Changing the narrative of how California Indian history is taught definitely makes the world a better place.”

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