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Ryan Long, Deseret Morning News
Rick Long dances during a powwow at Liberty Park. Such events help keep native traditions and history alive.

As a boy Virgil Johnson loved Kit Carson. To him Kit Carson was a great cowboy, an outstanding Indian scout and an American legend.

But later as Johnson, a Native American himself, grew up and learned of other accounts of Kit Carson from different perspectives in American Indian history, Kit soon fell off the pedestal.

Kit also moved a lot of American Indians out of their area and, as a government agent, like some other early frontiersmen, he helped make a lot of promises to the tribes that were broken, Johnson said. "Once I found out the truth I didn't think he was that great a person."

Now Johnson is a history teacher at Granger High School in Granite School District. For years he has taken extra time to research Utah and U.S. history to make sure he provides his students with information on historical events from multiple perspectives rather than just a textbook account — something Johnson said is generally written from a European perspective.

But the State Office of Education will be stepping in to help teachers do the same in an effort to infuse the history program with more Native American history lessons, specifically about tribes native to Utah — Ute, Dine (Navajo), Goshute, Shoshone and Paiute.

Using a $114,000 grant from the Daniels Fund, a Denver-based foundation, the state office has been designing, writing and researching instructional material that will provide teachers with resources that present a broader perspective and understanding of the role American Indians played in Utah and U.S. history.

The new instructional material will be used in grades 4, 5, 7, 8 and 11. Dolores Riley, educational consultant and project coordinator, said the intent is to develop lesson plans with assessments tied to the state core curriculum.

Teachers, tribal members, community leaders, tribal teachers, administrators and professors have been working with the state office to put together lesson plans that would be useful to Utah teachers.

"We want to put together lessons that really develop these complex thinkers that we want students to be," Riley said. "Not all teachers have the time to go into the depth of research and development that we're doing, and that's the wonderful aspect of this grant."

Johnson has made such research a priority because, aside from his own cultural back ground, he is fascinated with different perspectives in history.

From the European standpoint Indians were savages, the red men, and the true picture of Native Americans is lacking, Johnson said.

He teaches events such as Wounded Knee, the Trail of Tears, the AIM-FBI standoff and the Sand Creek Massacre from different perspectives — both the European and Indian perspectives — in hopes of giving students a more well-rounded grasp of the past.

"I always find it interesting that there is so much studied about the Holocaust and the millions killed, but that's nothing compared to what happened to the Native Americans on this land . . . this is long overdue."

Forrest Cuch, director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs, said the program will be a step in the right direction; however, there are many problems in Indian education that need to be explored.

Many Native American youths suffer from low self-worth and low self-esteem, which often leads to careless and destructive behavior, Cuch said.

"Social studies is very important to self-worth because it has to do with self-esteem and self preservation," Cuch said. " . . . American history gives no credit to Indians whatsoever."

He said Native Americans are often portrayed as being part of the wilderness rather than part of a people or a civilization. But by giving Native American history a place in the curriculum, Indian students will feel validated, and that will have long-reaching effects, he said.

"It will enable them to get a foothold on education and have enough motivation to stay in school," Cuch said. "Our kids are suffering at an alarming rate — many kids are dropping out of school, and education is the only way to improve their lives."

Riley said the program will also help students develop relationships about other diverse groups in general because they are learning to look at other backgrounds.

"It's a nice way of realizing we all live on this planet, and we come from different backgrounds, and that's all OK — we all add to the uniqueness of the United States," Riley said.

But Johnson feels this is something that should somehow be done with all aspects of history.

"If we really delve in, we find what and how each group has contributed to this country, and that is valuable," Johnson said.

The program will be piloted in a few schools late this fall, which will include professional development for teachers. Lesson plans will be available on the state office's Web site sometime in September.

In the future the development committee hopes to establish a relationship with the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian to showcase what they have accomplished.

"I have had teachers who participated say, 'I love what we're doing; I love coming together on this,' " Cuch said. "When you have educators saying that, then you know you are really doing something that is going to matter in the classroom."

E-mail: terickson@desnews.com