The first week of September marked a historic week North Dakota United, as we hosted Princess Moss, Vice President of the National Education Association.
“Just to see, you know, what the challenges are, what the opportunities are, and where might we as a union be able to make a difference,” said Princess.
Particularly the challenges and opportunities for Native American students and teachers.
“We were happy to host her and introduce her to people who are actually practicing education in native schools across the state,” said Nick Archuleta, President of North Dakota United.
The trip began with Dorothy Moses and Wachter Middle School in Bismarck.
“We started in Bismarck because Bismarck Public Schools educate the largest number of native students in North Dakota, second only to Belcourt on the Turtle Mountain Reservation,” Nick explained.
At Wachter Middle School, they met Teacher of the Year finalist Sheila Peterson. Then they visited Theodore Jamerson Elementary School on the United Tribes Technical College campus. Next was Cannon Ball Elementary on the Standing Rock Reservation, where a drum circle welcomed them, and Princess was honored with a star quilt and personally greeted by every student.
“I was just so touched. It really, really left a big impression on my heart,” said Princess.
Next, they visited Solen High School.
“I was really, really impressed with the quality of the conversations we had, particularly with the students and the staff, who give their all every day,” Nick said.
They visited Ely Elementary School in Rugby to congratulate Teacher of the Year finalist and elementary music teacher, Andee Mattson. Later, they traveled to Belcourt to tour Turtle Mountain Community College and Turtle Mountain Community High School, where they spoke with teachers, students, and administrators about efforts to incorporate Indian culture into teaching and learning.
“The first four days of school, they didn’t go to history class, they didn’t go to science class. They immersed themselves in the traditional practices of the tribes, addressing everything from discipline to tardiness with traditional tribal processes. This builds camaraderie among students of all grade levels,” Nick explained.
“What we all know about public education is that our students bring their experiences and cultures into the classrooms. To meet them where they are, we have to address their culture and ensure they feel respected and valued,” Princess added.
They also held a listening session with Rolla Education Association members at Mt. Pleasant School.
“Rolla could be considered a microcosm of the state as a whole. Childcare options are insufficient, and salaries aren't enough to retain educators,” Archuleta observed.
The following day, they visited Minot High School to discuss the upcoming school year and met with New Town Superintendent Marc Bluestone. They concluded their trip with a visit to White Shield, where Vice President Moss was honored with another star quilt, and where a student approached Princess for a hug.
“It was just an amazing moment, And I'm not sure what was going through that young lady's mind, but I can imagine maybe it was seeing someone who looked like her in that space, and saying, you know, whether verbally or just because I was there, that you are important, ‘you are important and you can be anything that you want to be,’” Princess shared.
Throughout the trip, Archuleta inquired about teacher demographics, there was a lower percentage of Native American teachers compared to students at each stop. This is a disparity he hopes will one day change.
“The statistics tell us that when young people see educators who look like them, they tend to engage more, respond better to instruction, and discipline when necessary. It's important to have a diverse teaching workforce,” Archuleta emphasized.
As for Princess Moss’s impression of North Dakota?
“There's a lot of great stuff going on here in North Dakota. You know, it's a small state with a very big heart,” she said.
Princess plans to present her experiences at the NEA board meeting on Saturday, September 23rd and says she will proudly display her star quilts in the NEA offices.