Chehalis Tribal History and Culture Curriculum Development Project

Magda Costantino, Ph.D.
The Evergreen Center for Educational Improvement

Magda Costantino

Chehalis Tribal History and Culture Curriculum Development Project, partially funded by GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, 2002 – 2007) was intended to improve the relationship between the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis and the local school district. Through unprecedented collaboration between the Evergreen Center for Educational Improvement at The Evergreen State College and the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis, an original, transformative community-based curriculum was born. The Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis, through their community’s participation, were able to use their own voices to describe their history and their culture from their own perspective. An innovative and original process was developed to connect the oral narration by the Chehalis elders with primary and secondary historical documents in order to achieve historical and academic integrity. In order to give everyone a chance to tell their story, a decision was made to develop inquiry-based lesson plans. This would give the students and the Tribe many opportunities to hear and incorporate every perspective, to collect and preserve all the rich historical and cultural details and create “a living document,” as the Tribe desired.

During this process the curriculum development team was in constant contact with the Tribe through tribally appointed liaisons. Thus the materials being developed were continuously being reviewed for accuracy and acceptability by the tribal representatives.


Following is a short list of lessons learned:

  • A tribal history and culture curriculum development process must be grounded in the community. Historical and cultural accuracy and integrity of the materials are of utmost importance.
  • A community-based curriculum development process needs to have several distinct stages:

Stage I:

  1. multiple community-based discussions about the intended learning outcomes
  2. sorting and organizing of the tribal histories collected through oral discussions among the tribal members by topic and chronology
  3. researching and collecting corroborating evidence from primary and secondary sources

Stage II:

  1. development of essential and guiding questions, assessments and lesson plans
  2. aligning the learning outcomes with the state standards
  3. developing a protocol for working with tribal elders and the tribal community

Stage III.

  1. tribal approval process

Stage IV.

  1. classroom testing
  2. classroom implementation
Chehalis History

The Chehalis Tribal History and Culture Curriculum will be integrated into the U.S. History as well as the Washington State History courses presently taught in the school districts adjoining the Chehalis Reservation. Materials were developed for high school, middle school and elementary school learners. The curriculum was aligned with the Washington State Standards. All six hundred plus Chehalis Tribal members received a draft copy of the curriculum. A lively community debate has started and the tribal approval process has been initiated. We are awaiting their reply with anticipation.

 Transforming, Teaching & Learning (The Evergreen State College Magazine article spring 2007) | PDF