Gov. Newsom signs tribal education, 4 other bills backed by Assemblymember James Ramos

California educators will be working more closely with Native American tribes under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday, Sept. 23.

Assembly Bill 1703, the California Indian Education Act, encourages school districts, county offices of education and charter schools to form California Indian Education Task Forces with local tribes or tribes historically located in the region to share local history, discuss areas of concern and develop Native American curriculum and classroom material.

“It’s critical that we teach all students about the diversity of California’s more than 100 tribes,” the bill’s author, Assemblymember James Ramos, D-Highland, is quoted as saying in a news release issued by his office. “Our state’s tribes each have different languages, customs, culture and history.”

Ramos expressed the hope that a “more complete and high quality curriculum” would prevent incidents like the October 2021 incident in which a Riverside Unified School District math teacher imitated a stereotypical Native American as part of trigonometry lesson.

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AB 1703 also requires local school districts to identify the size of the achievement gap between Native American students and non-Native peers and come up with strategies to close them. The findings would then be submitted to the Assembly and Senate education committees. Curricula and instructional materials developed by California Indian Education Task Forces around the state would also be shared with the California Department of Education with the intent of making them available to educators across California.

The new law was a long time in coming, according to San Manuel Band of Mission Indians Vice Chairman Johnny Hernandez.

“Part of the way you make sure that the atrocities of the past don’t happen again is learning your history,” he said. “It’s important to learn that history.”

Traditionally, much of the discussion of Native Americans focuses on tribes that lived in the plains, Hernandez said, “but a lot of it isn’t factual.”

Hernandez attended San Bernardino Unified schools growing up.

“When you’re in school, and you’re learning about how the local (American) Indians and local settlers were friends,” that’s not the full story, said Hernandez, who graduated from San Gorgonio High School in 2004.

“The truth isn’t out there,” he added, “and it takes everyone to listen to those tribes and sharing that history.”

The traditional fourth-grade California mission project is also the only time Hernandez’s son, Gauge, 16, learned about Native people in school.

“I’m just glad (the new law) is going to be in place for my younger brothers, my sister and all my cousins,” said Gauge, now a junior at Aquinas High School in San Bernardino and the chair of the San Manuel tribe’s youth committee.

Locally, the tribe has been working with schools on education programs for more than two decades.

“We’re proud to say that has reached thousands of students and teachers over the years,” Vice Chairman Hernandez said. “We’re hoping that program will be one everybody can look to as a model.”

Other Inland Empire tribes have similar programs, he said.

AB 1703 is one of five bills related to tribal matters introduced by Ramos, a former San Manuel tribal chairman, signed by Newsom on Friday. Earlier in the day, the governor had declared Sept. 23 to be California Native American Day.

“As we lift up the rich history and contributions of California’s diverse tribal communities today, the state recommits to building on the strides we have made to redress historical wrongs and help empower Native communities,” Newsom is quoted as saying in a news release issued by his office.

The other bills introduced by Ramos and signed by Newsom include:

  • AB 923 requires state agency leaders to be trained in tribal issues and how to work with tribal governments.
  • AB 1314 creates a “Feather Alert,” similar to Amber Alerts used for abducted children, to notify the public about Native Americans missing under suspicious circumstances. Members of Native American communities are much more likely to go missing or be murdered than other American communities. Research suggests that Native women are almost three times as likely to go missing as White women.
  • AB 1936 authorizes the UC Hastings College of the Law to remove the name of founder Serranus C. Hastings from the school’s name. It also requires the college to assist in setting up a nonprofit with and for the Yuki and Round Valley Native Americans. In the 1850s, Hastings promoted and financed expeditions to hunt Native Americans, funding bounties for killing them, leading to the deaths of hundreds of Yuki men, women and children.
  • AB 2022 requires the removal of the slur “squaw” from California geographic features, landmarks, public lands, waters and structures by Jan. 1, 2024.