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The Cheyenne and Arapaho Book Project hopes to introduce history



I want all Indians and white men to read and learn how the Indians lived and thought in the olden time and may it bring holy-good upon the younger Indians to know of their fathers. "Hiamovi, Cheyenne

With thousands of American Indian children in Oklahoma public schools, the ground is ripe to sow the seeds of tribal-cultivated books in the state curriculum, one Cheyenne-Arapaho educator said.


Quinton Roman Nose, the education director for the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, views the books as the Native American voice in the classroom. With a tribal touch, a more accurate voice will be relayed, Roman Nose said.

"It's important that federally recognized tribes here get into telling their own story," he said. "We feel like we have only touched the surface."

Figures back them up. State students who identified themselves as Indian made up just under 20 percent of the entire student body in Oklahoma, according to 2007 state Department of Education enrollment statistics.

Officials for the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes said they were aiming at revising what they consider revisionist history. Backed by gaming revenues, the tribe realized a goal in September when they officially launched the Cheyenne and Arapaho Book Project.

The first four children's books of the project were handed out to tribal members on a test run at the tribe's annual Labor Day powwow. Two Cheyenne books and two Arapaho books debuted, geared towards preschool to second graders and third to sixth graders. 

Both projects were the brainchild of tribal members. The Cheyenne-Arapaho fingerprint is found throughout the entire venture, said project participant Michael Bell.

"The books are geared toward elementary students." Bell said. "The main drive has been to provide Oklahoma the tribes' viewpoint that has usually been commandeered by other people."

The tribe is adamant that it wants to add the tribal voice to the state curriculum and not upend other texts used by educators. Although the books are currently geared to elementary students, one of the project's goals is that future versions will address all grade levels, Roman Nose said.

While the goal to introduce the Cheyenne-Arapaho version of history has been met, book project supporters said it could only roll forward because of the potential audience for the Indian voice during cultural studies in history and government.

The tribe is a confederation of two tribal groups, the Cheyenne and Arapaho, who migrated to Oklahoma as a result of federal policy in the late 1800s. Because of similarities in language, custom and culture, the two distinct groups make up one tribe in Oklahoma.

The Cheyenne-Arapaho have a tribal headquarters near El Reno, but their tribal jurisdiction extends into Blaine, Canadian, Custer, Dewey, Ellis, Kingfisher, Roger Mills and Washita counties " all with strong tribal student enrollment in the public school systems.

With revenue from tribal casinos and smoke shops, the tribe was able to earmark the funds for the book project, said Roman Nose.

"The money was put into the 2009 budget and we expect it to continue," he said.

Roman Nose attributed the Oklahoma book project to efforts undertaken by tribes in Montana, who have a similar project that was passed through the state's Legislature.

That kind of effort will be needed here to solidify the tribal voice in Oklahoma's schools, Roman Nose said.

"In that state (Montana), we're talking about an effort that culminated after 10 to 15 years of effort," he said. "Of course, we are hoping for a faster turnaround than that."

Tribal officials are using the Cheyenne and Arapaho Book Project's reception in Western Oklahoma schools as a testing ground for the rest of the state.

The books themselves are works by Native American people, tribal officials said. The Cheyenne and Arapaho Book Project used tribal writers and illustrators. They partnered with children's author Vickie Leigh Krudwig to write the texts and used Sweet Success Inc., a Colorado-based publishing company, to help put the books into print.

One of the illustrators, tribal member George Levi, said oral tradition played strongly into the drawings he did for the books.

"The other kids will learn where their Cheyenne classmates come from," Levi said. "And it's told in our way."

Additionally, each book was tribally named and the books' wording has an emphasis on tribal tradition, espousing values like respect for elders, sharing and patience, officials said.

Some of the factors that could hinder the books' acceptance in the mainstream is that most people have learned a version of Native American culture, history and government that only tells a shade of the story, Roman Nose said.

But he counts a prevailing attitude as well.

"Look at what Oklahoma " as a state government " has pushed in regards to tribes. They've opposed car tags and tobacco compacts, all of which is an attempt to erode our tribal sovereignty," he said.

Roman Nose pointed out the tribe's tragic history at the Battle of the Washita in Western Oklahoma as one indicator of misunderstanding between the Native American version of history and the white version. He hopes the books, which focus on life before reservations, will build a bridge of understanding between the communities.

"We are called Oklahoma, which means 'Land of the Red Man,' we have more Indian students per capita than any other state and we have 37 federally recognized tribes. I think it's clear we where we should go with this," Roman Nose said.

Funston Whiteman, director of the project, believes the books will catch on with a little time.

"This is just the beginning for us. We have a lot of stories and knowledge to pass on to our children." "S.E. Ruckman

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