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Standardizing Imperialism

Standardizing Imperialism

Illustration: Michael Duffy

The United States was born of British imperialism and acquired its territory through imperialist expansion. As the dominant capitalist country, the United States uses its military and economic muscle to secure markets, natural resources, strategic sites, and energy to fuel its military, industries, and lifestyle. Imperialist nations sell their own version of the colonization process, while at the same time actively obscuring alternative versions. I wanted to look at how California's History-Social Science Framework and Standards do this.

The standards document folds indigenous people into a triumphal story of U.S. "growth," while ignoring indigenous analyses of the same history. In third and fourth grades, students are to study local and state history according to a sequence of events: "the explorers who visited here; the newcomers who settled here; the economy they established; their impact on the American Indians of this region; and their lasting marks on the landscape." Landscape provides the context, and sequence provides the structure in which people "visit" and "settle."

In fifth grade, students study U.S. history starting with a unit devoted to the cultures of pre-Columbian indigenous people, which is the main place indigenous people appear — relegated to a distant past. In fifth and eighth grades, students are to trace the westward movement of whites and the policy of Manifest Destiny using maps, spiced with exciting stories of personal accounts of adventure. Periodically, students are asked to "consider the viewpoint of the American Indians who occupied these same lands," particularly by studying the Trail of Tears, but then the same narrative of triumphal westward movement continues.

By high school, indigenous people have largely disappeared from the social studies curriculum, with the exception of insertion of the word "tribal" into a 12th grade standard regarding levels of government. The concept of Indian sovereignty appears only in a third grade standard that directs students to "describe the ways in which California, the other states, and sovereign American Indian tribes contribute to the making of our nation and participate in the federal system of government," implying that tribes have parallel power with states.

In contrast, historical analyses by indigenous peoples focus on treaty making among sovereign states, and on how the United States increasingly ignored, then pulverized treaties and exterminated the people in order to take land. There is no mention in the standards of the 1887 Allotment Act, which negated Indian control of land and shifted definitions of who is Indian from citizenship in a sovereign Indian nation to how much indigenous blood an individual has. Native-American Historian Ward Churchill called the Allotment Act, along with the Indian Citizenship Act, passed in 1924, sovereignty's "Great Disappearing Act." Neither appears in the California standards document, nor does a study of maps indicating land cessions and contemporary reservations.

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