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ICSD Honors Indigenous Excellence, Advocacy, and Empowerment Through Project-Based Learning

Native American Heritage Month serves as a crucial opportunity to acknowledge both the painful history of dispossession and violence that Indigenous Americans have experienced and the resilience and vitality of Indigenous communities past and present who persist against great odds.

ICSD campuses occupy the traditional lands of the Gayogohó:no, or Cayuga Nation. The Gayogohó:no are members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, an alliance of six sovereign nations with a historic and contemporary presence on this land. The Confederacy precedes the establishment of the ICSD, New York State, and the United States of America.

Throughout the school year, Paul Heiland and Jill Kautz, American history teachers at Ithaca High School, focus their teaching on the recognition that the land on which we learn, work, and live is Indigenous land. As such, they begin their curriculum not with colonization, but with a study of Indigenous excellence, cultures, and current issues. 

In September, students in Mr. Heiland and Ms. Kautz’s classes were asked to collaborate on a group project researching land practices and food sovereignty as it relates to the Haudenosaunee and Indigenous Nations. This project was spearheaded by summer work conducted during an Anti-Marginalization Workshop organized by Assistant Superintendent for Inclusion Mary Grover. At the beginning of the process, students learned about the Gayogohó:no people (their history, their complex culture, and even some Gayogohó:no words) as well land practices of Indigenous communities throughout the nation. Next, students studied allyship and what it means to be a good ally for Indigenous populations.

Inspired by their learning, students were empowered to take action. Some wrote to policymakers in the ICSD, Ithaca, New York State, and even the Nation about ways to increase the representation of Indigenous excellence or to use policy to help counter the legacies of stolen land and colonization. Other students chose to inform the school community about the issues and how others can be better allies. Many of these creative projects have been displayed in the IHS library by the school’s talented library staff.

NAHM 2022 at IHS
NAHM 2022 at IHS

While November serves as an important reminder of the contributions of Indigenous communities, an emphasis on Indigenous excellence, resistance, and empowerment is an instrumental part of the ICSD’s anti-marginalization curriculum, which supports young people in their development of anti-racist understandings and practices. The curriculum involves specific approaches to learning, with all students engaged in critical thinking, differentiated instruction, cooperative learning, and collaborative grouping.

Indigenous history and cultures are a crucial part of the ICSD’s curricula--centered on the fundamental acknowledgment that Indigenous history is American history.