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Seeing is (part of) Belonging: Increasing the Visibility of Native Students and Teachers

The best of science and learning development tells us that the bridge to rigorous academic environments starts with ensuring students feel safe, seen, and belong. New Teacher Center leverages the incredible power of deep, assets-oriented relationships as a critical enabling condition for learning.

Seeing is (part of) Belonging: Increasing the Visibility of Native Students and Teachers
Male educator elementary school children, he is sitting on the floor with them and giving a verbal lesson.

As NTC honors Native American Heritage Month, Melissa Koepp, Chickasaw, and NTC’s partnership and development team manager, shares a prudent reminder that we must challenge our perceptions and truly see others. The deep, authentic relationships that ignite the neural pathways to transformative learning experiences start with going beyond the surface and embracing the complexity, richness, and beauty of Native and Indigenous people. Here, we see legacy meet history, and people feel self-worth as contributing members versus inclusion alone.

Saholhchifoat Melissa Koepp. Chikasha saya, micha Chikashanompa itanali. My name is Melissa Koepp. I am Chickasaw, and I am learning the Chickasaw language.

When we are looking to support Native and Indigenous holisso pisa’ (students) and holisso toshooli’ (teachers), we first need to see them. Frequently, Native folks are invisible, as they may not appear in front of you as “visibly” Native. They may not be present in the texts we read or the media we consume daily, and we are often seen as a relic of the past or only belonging in remote, rural areas. No matter what part of the country you live and work in, you are on Native land. No matter what school district you are working in, you are serving Native students and working with Native educators. By making Native folks visible in the classroom, we are supporting our Native communities.

Shining a light to really see our Native peers, students, and educators is a foundation where meaningful relationships take root — the kinds of connections that turn classrooms from transactions and tasks into invested communities building knowledge and learning. Here are a few resources that help make that light and visibility brighter:

National Indian Education Association, Information on Native Students
Did you know that 93% of Native students attend public schools? Or that about half (49%) attend schools where less than 10% of the student body is AI/AN? The National Indian Education Association has a great page with data on Native students, and you can explore their website for resources that support Native educators, and for resources for teachers to use in the classroom.

Whose land are you on, Native Land Digital
Whose land do you live on? Whose land is your school on? This site helps you find what nations’ traditional lands you currently occupy. For New Teacher Center, our founding office in Santa Cruz, CA, is located on the traditional lands of the Awaswas, Ohlone, and the Amah Mutsun.

We R Native
We R Native is a comprehensive site for resources to support Native youth, covering topics ranging from mental health, gender and sexuality, bullying, culture, relationships, and my favorite: Ask Your Relative.

National Museum of the American Indian
If you are unable to visit the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in person in Washington, DC, their website is a fantastic resource. Native Knowledge 360 has lessons about Native peoples in different regions of the country aimed at different grade levels. NMAI puts on many webinars on topics that impact Native education.

Indian Country Today
We are still here, and Indian Country Today is a great place to learn about the current events that impact Native nations and peoples. They have a daily newscast, which shares news and brings people in proximity to Native thought leaders and community members through interviews.

Chickasaw Nation curriculum
My tribe, the Chickasaw Nation, has a publicly available curriculum that can be used by holisso toshooli’ to support teaching Chikasha history or about significant Chikasha historical figures. You can see if the tribal nations near you have any information about their history available to share with your class or to educate yourself on the history of your neighbors.

About Melissa Koepp
Melissa Koepp is a partnerships and development manager at NTC and an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation. She currently lives in Washington State on the traditional lands of the Nisqually people and was previously a grant writer with the Chehalis Tribe. Melissa enjoys learning the Chickasaw language and reading Native fiction.

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