Many campus, community services available to American Indians


American Indians and anyone interested in learning more about Indian culture can visit the many centers in Salt Lake City and at the University of Utah campus.

Transitioning from high school to college or from one college to another can be a difficult process. Assisting in that transition is the American Indian Resource Center at the U. Becky McKean, an administrative assistant at AIRC, said staff work with different offices on campus to establish partnerships.

“We draw from each other,” McKean said.

Some of the groups working with the AIRC are academic, such as the American Indian Science and Engineering Society. Others, like the Inter Tribal Student Association, focus on student life. The Center for Ethnic Student Affairs has within its office a Native American coordinator who advises students and helps with scholarships, McKean said.

She said this year, AIRC Director Beverly Fenton was able to get the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe in-state tuition for its students.

“The Ute Mountain Utes are located in Colorado, but since they are part of the Ute Tribe they were granted in-state tuition thanks to Beverly’s work,” McKean said.

AIRC is located near the dorms in a house donated by Fort Douglas. McKean said that when the Fort downsized 15 years ago, the house was given to the American Indians.

AIRC encourages students to use the building as a meeting place for groups and activities and strengthens connections with the community. It also helps students get involved with internships and work-study programs.

McKean said they are trying to be active in bringing people into the center. Twice a week a writing tutor comes to the AIRC to assist students with papers and homework assignments and to help improve their writing, McKean said. The AIRC also has a computer lab available for students and McKean hopes to get a grant to purchase more computers.

“The goal of the Center is to act as a liaison between the U and tribal communities,” McKean said. The Center is currently working on developing a brochure and a Web site to advertise the available services throughout the community. McKean said she hopes to bring the community into the center. This fall, while visiting the U, tribal leaders from across Utah and neighboring states were welcomed into the Center. A potluck was also hosted which brought a sizeable crowd of students and faculty to the Center.

Other on-campus resources include the American West Center, which is working with the Utah Division of Indian Affairs to develop teaching guides for grade school children to inform and educate them on current issues and history of Utah’s American Indians. Also, the Center for American Indian Languages focuses on the study of indigenous languages.

The state of Utah gets its name from the Ute Tribe. Support for members of the Tribe and other American Indian tribes come from a variety of places.

A local resource available to tribal members is the Indian Walk-In Center.

Brenda Chambers, an employee and health specialist for the center, said in an e-mail that the purpose of the Walk-In Center is to support and provide wellness services to people with respect to values and heritage of American Indians and Alaska Natives.

The Walk-In Center sees members from tribes all over Utah, including the Utes, Paiutes, Goshute, Shoshone and Navajo. Chambers said the Walk-In Center serves as a meeting place. In addition, anyone who wants to learn more about American Indians can gather at the Center and take advantage of the services and information available.

Chambers said the Center offers services in many different areas, including health services, counseling, community outreach, events and general assistance. Within each area different services are available to the community. For example, people seeking housing can take advantage of housing referral services. Children visiting the center can take part in the literacy project and attend leadership meetings.

A major issue for American Indians is health-related problems such as diabetes. The Walk-In Center offers nutrition information and presentations as well as screenings for diabetes. Health promotion and prevention is a big part of what the Walk-In Center does.

Supporting all aspects of native life is important, but it’s also important to inform non-native people as well. McKean said she hopes the resources available on and off campus will “help educate the community and bring us closer together.”

Salt Lake American Indian leader promotes more accurate teaching of history


For an illustrative example of how American Indian culture impacts people every day, look no further than a plate of spaghetti.

Although typically associated with Italian culture, the pasta dish’s roots can actually be traced to America and Asia. Tomatoes, the key ingredient in marinara sauce, were first domesticated by American Indians and later shipped back to Europe, while noodles were originally created by Asian cultures.

The example, though seemingly trivial, is one of several used by Forrest S. Cuch, executive director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs, to underscore a troubling pattern in popular interpretations of history: the tendency to diminish or, more often, ignore outright American Indians’ role in history.

“When I went to school, [the] message I got: Indians made no contributions to Western culture,” he said in an interview with students in a University of Utah reporting class.

This at least partly explains why American Indian students often feel “written out of history,” said Cuch, 57. His own school experience was marked by conflicts between what he was learning at school and what his parents were telling him at home.

“Right off, I didn’t feel good about school,” he said, citing examples of the incomplete, often inaccurate accounts of history he was taught, including the notion that Pilgrims, not Indians, found the wilderness and learned to survive largely without help.

As part of his lifelong quest to teach a version of history in which American Indians are accorded their proper significance, Cuch gives a PowerPoint presentation when he travels around the state. The slideshow, titled “Did You Know?” provides a broad overview of some of the most prominent American Indian achievements glaringly omitted from school textbooks and curricula including: evidence of writing that pre-dates the earliest known samples from other cultures, their early and advanced organized societies, and the fact that they’ve inhabited the Americas for at least 13,000 years.

But the effort to restore American Indians to their rightful place history is not in any way intended as a judgment on prevailing white or Anglo-American culture. On the contrary, white people have also suffered needlessly as a result of these same misconceptions of history, Cuch said.

“White people who don’t know the facts walk around with huge doses of guilt,” he said. In particular, he referred to the diseases introduced by white colonists that severely decimated American Indian populations, and urged that students “Don’t blame [yourselves] entirely for that – it wasn’t intentional.”

The idea that American Indians are often marginalized in the teaching of history is shared by RaDawn Pack, who teaches second grade at Brockbank Elementary School in Spanish Fork, Utah. What is less clear is what to do to change it.

Compared to when she began teaching 22 years ago, Pack said that currently she may teach even less about American Indians. But she did mention a few activities still taught today that feature American Indian culture.

On “Native American Day,” students rotate between four stations, each headed by one of Brockbank’s four second-grade teachers. At these stations students learn to mash corn, hunt for cranberries, learn about Indian hunting skills and string Froot Loop necklaces.

Students also read “Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message” by Jake Swamp, a Mohawk Chief. The illustrated book imparts a message of kindness and respect for nature.

And in fourth-grade classes, Brockbank students study Utah history curriculum that focuses on American Indians.

For his part, Cuch, who taught social studies 14 years ago at Wasatch Academy in Mt. Pleasant, Utah, acknowledges there has been an effort to teach more accurate versions of American Indian history. Yet he questions the validity of the historical facts that most Utah children grow up learning.

“Most of the history you’ve received in school is terribly inaccurate,” he said, going so far as to say that as much as 90 percent of what is taught is erroneous.

He called for more education and training at the collegiate level. And, as a member of the Ute Indian Tribe, Cuch has worked with the American West Center to develop his ancestors’ history into curriculum for Utah schools. He is also developing teacher guides on American Indian topics.

“Education is complex and it’s simple,” he said. “There’s no curriculum better than love. You have to teach from the heart with love.”

Tribal leader training in SLC provides growth, opportunity


One man has high hopes for the education of Native American people, and 90 tribal leaders from across the U.S. have supported his life changing efforts.

His name is Forrest Cuch.

The program? Empowerment training.

And no, Cuch didn’t always see life the way he sees it now. As an enrolled member of the Ute Indian Tribe and executive director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs since 1997, he had to wade through years of his own fears and insecurities before he could help others tackle their own.

“We had a way of life that was good, but when I started hearing about Pilgrims the information was painful to me,” he says. “‘Oh, what about the Indians?'” he asked. “I didn’t feel good about school.”

Cuch admits he didn’t trust what he’d been taught by his parents and says he was confused about his heritage.

“Had the American Indians made no progress to society”? Did his people really kill those in wagon trains “without any provocation”? Were there historical inaccuracies that he should know about?

“I had to learn about my “own humanity,” he says, “my good side as well as my bad. My people enslaved [others]. I learned from that.”

Cuch also learned from a man named Mack Gift Ph.D., a non-Native American professor who taught him at Westminster College where he graduated in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science.

Twenty-nine years later, after Cuch had gained experience in Native American directing, planning and administration involving various endeavors, as well as becoming a department head and teacher in the social studies department at Wasatch Academy in Mt. Pleasant, Utah, Cuch and Gift came together once again.

The rest may even be history.

About 30 tribal leaders from across the country were invited to attend that first empowerment training in 2002 at the Embassy Suites Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City. Among other things, the experiential and lecture oriented training instructed Native American tribal leaders in history, community development, spirituality, government, business and physical and mental health.

The curriculum borrows from the Minnesota Model of “training and empowering disabled people under the National Governor’s Council for the Disabled program,” Cuch says. Passive/aggressive behavior as well as eye contact is a part of the agenda that helps to educate tribal leaders to improve their lives.

And the medium has proved a success.

Thirty tribal leaders were invited and spent one weekend a month for 10 months at the same location the following year. In 2005, 30 additional tribal leaders from various Native American tribes were selected, making a total of approximately 90 tribal leaders who would finish the program.

“There was no preaching,” Cuch says. The leaders were shown how to make a better life by contrast and by choice. Though education was given, it was up to the tribal leader to take it in and live it, he says.

“It was a respite for people, a respite for excellent learning,” Gift adds in a phone interview. “Each of the tribes learned to go beyond tribal identity. They found a commonality.”

Not surprisingly, with the training of tribal leaders came growth for others.

“Tribal leaders have shared it with other people,” Gift says.” It is a great program, but we are trying to get funding to go through it again.”

Currently, the Institute for Social Research at the University of Utah is evaluating Cuch’s program, which he said costs an average of $100,000 per training or about $3,300 per participant.

The research group was “pretty impressed with the program” Gift says. He has high hopes that, in time, the training will expand. Once it’s been established annually for Native American tribal leaders, Gift would like to involve as many Native Americans as possible.

“When we hear, ‘we’re ready to live now, we see clearly now,’ that makes us feel good,” Cuch says, speaking of the empowerment program his division provides. “We must use every medium possible, and it’s a very challenging thing to do. [But] the future hinges on the quality of education for all people.”

Utah Division of Indian Affairs seeks more accurate history education


“History is a race between education and catastrophe,” said writer and historian H.G. Wells. 

Forrest Cuch, executive director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs, has been in the thick of that race for decades, and shows no signs of slowing his pace.

The importance of teaching accurate history is paramount for Cuch, an avid reader who can throw a book recommendation into any conversation.

He is dedicated to education and ensuring correct accounts of history be disseminated. A misinformed public can precipitate the disastrous result of repeating history’s mistakes, so Cuch’s work with the UDIA aims to prevent such a calamity.

“Democracy in this country hinges upon an educated public,” Cuch said.

Cuch’s biggest accomplishment in his career with the UDIA centered around educating the public, one small group at a time.  One hundred people took part in an empowerment training in the years 2002, 2003 and 2005. The training lasted 10 months and aimed to educate minorities in four sections: History, community developments and spirituality, physical health and mental health. 

The training, costing $90,000 to $100,000, became too expensive to continue. Cuch would like to do it again, if the money were available.

But the best place to start education is with children. Unfortunately, Cuch remembers his education to be inaccurate, even about his own people.

He recalls learning the history of his people in the K-12 system, then comparing it to his self-study after he graduated from high school. He found there were two histories, the one his teachers taught him and the one he had been taught by his parents.

“The teacher is an authority figure, so I thought my parents were lying,” Cuch said.

The path to the truth was not an easy one for Cuch.

“It did me trauma,” Cuch said. “Our people were here first. I had that understanding. All the information (taught in school) was painful to me.”

Nola Lodge, director of American Indian Teacher Education at the University of Utah and member of the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin, says proper history has been neglected and in turn, everyone suffers.

“I think that in general, K-12 Indian history has been inadequate,” Lodge said. “There have been teachers who have tried to provide more information, but that is not the usual.”

This inadequate knowledge has damaged understanding between the American Indian people and their peers.

“At best we may get six to 10 pages in the early years of U.S. history, and then we disappear,” Lodge said. “Furthermore what is taught does not help anyone to understand us. We are depicted as slowing down progress, as savages and ignorant.”

But this lack of understanding from other cultures is coming from the same textbooks and teachers that are instructing American Indian students as well. They, too, suffer.

“For the American Indian, it is important for them to know the real history too.  Most Indians are taught in public schools whether on or near reservations, and they receive the same text and curriculum as non-Indians.” Lodge said.  “Consequently, there is a lack of knowledge and understanding by all.”

Teaching American Indian students in the same setting as their peers is a problematic situation, Cuch also believes.

“Our kids learn differently,” Cuch said. “The Indian world operates on feeling, this one works on intellect. There needs to be a balance.”

Lodge believes focusing on “federal Indian policy and subsequent events is crucial to understanding American Indian history” and is key for obtaining a fuller, more accurate U.S. history.

The big lesson to take from history, Cuch said, is humanity. Sometimes mistakes are made but shouldn’t necessarily be condemned.

Even after learning that American Indians were sometimes unfairly pegged as the “bad guys,” Cuch still resists playing the blame game. He also encourages white people to forgive their ancestors for the actions some took against the American Indians.

“It was just something that happened,” Cuch said. “But don’t blame yourselves entirely.”

Cuch continues to race against calamity with a love of history and education. But he has a trick to beat out his competition: He knows how to get the message out and into public knowledge.

“The best way to teach is out of love,” Cuch said. “Love is the best curriculum.”

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