Ethnic Studies Requirements Erase the Past

California has become the first state to require ethnic studies for high school graduates. Assembly Bill 101 (an appropriately Orwellian number!), signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on October 8, will indoctrinate students through the use of Critical Race Theory (CRT), a Marxist-inspired ideology that, if left unchecked, will form the foundation for the restructuring of America. CRT is a doctrine based on racial division, which operates as a rationale for a shift of power from the people to the state.

CRT is an offshoot of Critical Law Theory (CLT), which first appeared in the 1970s. CLT shares CRT’s Marxist roots and claims that laws are devised to maintain the status quo, thereby codifying the biases and hierarchies of a society. CRT builds on this assertion by claiming that racism is so deeply embedded in the thought processes and the structure of American society that no white is innocent, since whites are the beneficiaries of those unearned advantages of which people of color are deprived.

One of the general principles of California’s ethnic studies requirement is to “include accurate information based on current and confirmed research.” CRT is hardly mentioned in A.B. 101. Yet, the materials provided by the California Department of Education’s Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum website are rife with CRT-infused examples, such as a focus on current “institutional racism within our culture and government policies,” rigorous analyses of “systems of oppressions,” and “interrogation of systems that continue to perpetuate inequality.”

Perhaps the most egregious aspect of A.B. 101 is the curriculum related to Native American studies. The bill works to “center and place high value on pre-Colonial ancestral knowledge”—thus, the principle to “include accurate information” will surely be swept aside to allow for a simplistic portrayal of Native Americans as good and Europeans as bad.

The Native American curriculum revives the old stereotypes of the environmentally conscientious Native American. They are described as those who have stewarded this land and believe that they are only “guests” on “Mother Earth.” The curriculum refers to “Native American epistemology that places high reverences on land and the environment.”

Yet, slash-and-burn agriculture was practiced in the Eastern Woodlands prior to European contact. In the Southwest, the precontact Hohokam Indians overused water resources for agriculture, which resulted in their cultural collapse. Paleoindians (those New World human remains dating over 7,000 years old) left large bison carcasses nearly untouched and regularly killed entire herds by running them off cliffs. And the Cherokee, according to ethnographic research, believed that the animals they hunted would be reanimated in even larger numbers, leading them to kill far more than they could use. These are but a few examples—discovered using archaeological, ethnographic, and biological anthropology data—which illustrate that Native Americans, similar to all peoples (including Europeans and their descendants) used the land for their needs and desires; humans’ greatest adaptation is our ability to alter our environment rather than having to conform to it.

The ethnic studies curriculum tells further falsehoods through the lesson on land acknowledgements. Land acknowledgements perpetuate the myth of tribal land ownership (which ironically contradicts their own philosophies that the land cannot be owned) and cultural tribal continuity. But there’s not much continuity to be found.

For example, human remains found at Angel Mounds on the Ohio River near Evansville, Indiana consisted of mound-builders who lived there from 800 AD to around 1400. They were part of the maize-agricultural, Muskogean-language Mississippian Culture. Isotopic analyses, which involve bone chemistry based on diet, reveal some females were not lifelong maize consumers, and may have been captured outsiders. To assume that all individuals who were buried in the location were native to the site is to fundamentally misunderstand the past, complete with all its migrations and invasions. Anthropologists have also revealed that contemporary tribes of the Quapaw Nation, the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, and the Shawnee and Eastern Shawnee Tribe, who laid claim to these human remains from Angel Mound, migrated to the region hundreds of years after the mound-builders.

The lies keep on coming with AB 101’s condemnation of Columbus Day, which celebrates the Discovery of America, and its celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which relies on mythologized ethnic stereotypes of the peaceful, egalitarian Native American.

Detractors say that the Discovery was only the beginning of a centuries-long, bloody violation of Native Americans, ignoring all the positive aspects of that world-changing event. Also ignored is the abundant evidence of centuries of pre-Discovery violence, such as at the Colorado Anasazi Sacred Ridge site, which was abandoned over 600 years before contact, in which every human bone had been scalped, mutilated, and burned. All ages and both sexes were represented among these possibly cannibalized victims.

Archaeologists and historians have shown that a Native American egalitarian utopia is a myth—slaves were common among Native American tribes. For example, French colonists encountering Native Americans in Illinois mistook slaves for multiple wives. These false narratives serve as an ideological means to an end—white Europeans bad; indigenous people good—a key component to ethnic studies.

By perpetuating the myth of the environmentalist Natives, by listening only to Native voices who hide the uglier sides of their history, and by burying skeletal remains to hide migrations and violence, we likewise bury the best ways to understand the lives of ancient peoples.

Those who speak up against falsehoods are attacked as racists. I (Weiss) have experienced such attacks firsthand. In response to a vitriolic campaign that included an attempt to ban my book, outrage against an op-ed I wrote, and an overblown reaction to a photo of me holding a skull, San José State University President Mary Papazian changed the curation facility locks to ensure research on prehistoric skeletal remains ends. When perspectives that challenge myths are considered “dangerous,” we will no longer be able to understand humanity. Assembly Bill 101, with its CRT foundation and its lack of archaeological and historic data, is part of the means by which progressive bureaucrats are attempting to radically transform American society. As Orwell observed, “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”


Image: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Elizabeth Weiss and Glynn Custred

Elizabeth Weiss is a professor of anthropology at San José State University and the coauthor (with James W. Springer) of “Repatriation and Erasing the Past.” Glynn Custred, who earned his Ph.D. in anthropology from Indiana University, is a professor emeritus of anthropology at California State University, East Bay.

6 thoughts on “Ethnic Studies Requirements Erase the Past

  1. Along with its noble savage mythology regarding Native Americans, the Ethnic Studies Framework appears to me to be engaging in even more laughable pseudoscientific myth-making regarding Africans. I am no African scholar, so others may have more to add to what I say here. However, look at the lesson on ancient Africa in Chapter 4 of the Framework, pp. 40-44. In general, the lesson appears to be based on Afro-centric pseudohistory. Specifically, see p. 42, point 2, with its truly bonkers bit about “Inzalo Y’Langa,” (“birthplace of the sun”) which is actually about stonewalled towns in Mpumalanga province, in eastern South Africa. The walls were built by African seKonie speakers sometime in the last millennium, likely between 1500 and 1800. Yet here is the passage on them from the Framework:

    “1. Begin the lesson by discussing why Inzalo Y’Langa, popularly named Adam’s Calendar, is called the oldest human made structure in the world? Show on the map where it is located in southern Africa and point out that even if it is not more than 100,000 years old as suggested, it is still older than the Great Pyramid on the same continent and Stonehenge in England.”
    apr2021esmcch4.docx (live.com)

    What is truly ironic about this mythology in the Framework is that it appears to be based on theories originally concocted by racist Europeans in South Africa who could not believe Africans capable of these elaborate constructions. Hence they went looking for Sumerian, Dravidian Indian or even extraterrestrial agents to explain them. In fact, a good story could be told about the complexity of historic African societies, in particular this fascinatingly complex network of stonewalled homesteads, roads and terraced fields in South Africa. But instead the Ethnic Studies Framework adopts a bizarre idea based on racist fantasies about African inferiority to concoct an equally fantastic notion about African superiority from some unimaginably ancient time.

  2. The biography of Columbus by Carol Delaney (emerita professor, Stanford) is a real eye-opener. The motives of Columbus are not remotely what most people today, in their ignorance, think. The biography makes it pretty clear that the Spanish under Columbus often acted horribly. But the natives were not all innocents either. (Though some of them perhaps were, judging by what Columbus thought). But some of the native tribes that even the early Spaniards came in contact with were incredbily vicious and sadistic. The same seems to be true about many continental North American tribes.

    It’s also interesting to me that American Indians that I’ve known have been about the biggest flag wavers around. They also allegedly are the ethnic group that joins the military in the largest relative portion. My experience, for what it’s worth, is that they tend to want to stay to themselves and be left alone, but they are happy to do business, as I have quite a bit, for some reason — land and lodging and art. (Maybe because I tend to like the same kinds of natural locations.)

    Something does not match the picture we’re getting from the activist academics.

  3. A superb overview of the distortions and dishonesty that mar Native American history and anthropology.

    If I were still teaching African history before 1750, this article would be required reading and my students would be asked to identify its powerful basic truths.

  4. Another thing conveniently “forgotten” is the fact American indians (e.g., Cherokee and Choctaw) regularly practiced slavery. Indeed, they even owned black slaves.

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