Over the past few years, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West has embarked on an ambitious education program that embraces the concept of Indian Education for All. The Center’s Native Education Outreach Program, based in the Interpretive Education Department but working with additional Center staff, actively uses the Center’s Plains Indian Museum’s resources and collections to foster broader understanding and stronger exchanges between Native communities, the Center, and its many audiences.
In 2018, the Wyoming State Legislature passed a bill requiring the states’ schools to include the cultural heritage, histories, and contemporary contributions of Indigenous people in social studies standards. In response, the Center of the West took the opportunity to develop the Native Education Outreach Program to connect teachers with Indigenous educators and culture bearers who share accurate content and teaching strategies.
Through the program’s Teacher Professional Development course, Center resources are leveraged to provide teacher professional development opportunities and programs—both in person and virtually—for schools nationwide. With generous grant and donor support, the Center is able to provide the trainings free of charge. The course is also offered online free through the Wyoming Department of Education’s professional development portal, WyEdPro.
The initial goal is to focus on the Indigenous peoples that have historically and contemporarily called this region home. The program relies heavily on the knowledge and expertise of Indigenous culture bearers and is intentional in addressing the many diverse, distinct voices of Native American Peoples. More on the course for teachers later on in this post!
Center staff spearheading the Native Education Outreach Program include Native Education Outreach Specialist Heather Bender, along with Plains Indian Museum Curatorial Assistant Hunter Old Elk and K–12 Curriculum and Digital Specialist Megan Smith. Additional presenters so far have tribal identities in the Northern Arapaho, Eastern Shoshone, Crow, Yakama, Oglala Lakota, and Northern Cheyenne Nations, and the Center continues to seek out presenters from many Plains Indian Nations.
In addition to the teacher course, the Center’s Native Education Outreach Program includes in-gallery presentations—and video programs resulting from them and shared online—by Native artists in the Plains Indian Museum. Two such artists, who both demonstrated their work while chatting with public visitors and were interviewed for videos, are Robert Martinez and Sarah Ortegon. Artists such as these share not only their work, but their perspective as Native artists working in contemporary times.
In these videos, Martinez and Ortegon share insights into their work and identities.
The Course for Teachers
The Native Education Outreach Program’s course invited all Wyoming educators to participate in a series of six modules covering these topics: Object-based Teaching and Learning, Cultural Competencies, Culturally Responsive Teaching, Knowledge of Local Native American Tribal Groups, Sovereignty and Land Rights, Symbols of Patriotism/Native Americans in the Military.
The participating teachers benefit from the opportunity to collaborate with museum educators, curators, historians, and Indigenous knowledge keepers to develop instructional materials that addresses Wyoming Indian Education for All Standards, to engage in culturally responsive pedagogical practices, to identify material cultural primary source materials and analyze how to incorporate them into inquiry-based lesson plans, and to develop a professional learning community to rely upon.
Virtual Education Programs
The Center of the West’s Interpretive Education Department presents vast numbers of virtual programs to student classrooms and homeschool settings across the country as well as the world. These programs include two focused specifically on Plains Indian culture: Plains Indians and the Buffalo, and Plains Indian Culture Yesterday and Today. If you are interested in booking these programs for your own students, visit the Center of the West’s Virtual Field Trips page.
The Buffalo Bill Center of the West’s Native Education Outreach Program continues to facilitate understanding as well as curriculum, public gallery programs, and field trips—both virtual and in-person—that foster these exchanges between Native communities, the Center, and its vast and diverse audiences. Future updates on this program and its results will be shared here!