Native Americans played significant roles in the making of America, but often only basic information filters into textbooks, with little mention of the struggles that persist today because of colonization, says Kamehameha Schools kumu Këhau Glassco.

Photo: Wall with "Museum of the American Indian" engraving
Kamehameha Schools Kumu Ke¯hau Glassco spent the summer in Washington, D.C., as teacher-in-residence for
the National Museum of the American Indian’s Native Knowledge 360º initiative. – Photos: Courtesy of Kamehameha

Glassco recently returned from Washington D.C., where she spent the summer as teacher-in-residence at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). As part of the museum’s Native Knowledge 360º initiative, Glassco’s residency involved working with museum education staff to create social studies units aimed at providing teachers an authentic curriculum about Native people, from the perspective of Native people.

“There’s so much more to Native people that is not being taught,” Glassco says. Education could add context to issues like the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy, the importance of buffalo and the plight of Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest who are fighting for the right to fish salmon because the rivers have been dammed.

“I think the units build empathy and compassion. When there are contemporary events happening, students will understand why the Native people are fighting so hard,” said Glassco. “That’s what we need today. We need aloha.”

In Hawaiʻi, learning about Hawaiian history and culture is a requirement – although that doesn’t prevent incomplete and false narratives from being taught. On the continent, Hawaiian history is often distilled to a paragraph, while the history of Native peoples across the nation doesn’t adequately address the impacts of colonization. Glassco, a secondary social studies teacher, brought a culture-based perspective to NMAI: “This is what makes me unique. I have this culture-based education background. I also teach in a school for Hawaiians. I felt like that was a lens I wanted to bring to the educational units the museum was creating.”

Photo: Entrance of Museum
The Native Knowledge 360º initiative is creating social studies units to provide
teachers with authentic curriculum that includes Native perspectives.

Glassco concentrated on four units of the Native Knowledge 360º online curriculum – two on the Pacific Northwest and two on the Northern Plains. Developed using an inquiry design model, the units encourage students to investigate and use documents to develop their own arguments. “Through these units, students will understand the connection the Native people have to their land, culturally and spiritually. Everything they need comes from the land.” The curriculum addresses Manifest Destiny and the treaties between America and Native nations that were created and broken. “It gets the students to understand that the Native leaders were trying to work with America – here are the documents that have been created.” As a requirement of her residency, Glassco will offer professional development for teachers across the state this spring to show them how the units can complement what students are learning.

At Kamehameha, students learn about their identity as Hawaiians. But many Native students across the country don’t gain the confidence that comes from learning about their own people’s history. “These units allow the Native students of the Pacific Northwest and Northern Plains to learn about themselves, their own ancestors,” Gssco explains. Even teachers who have no Native students in their classes can find connections to teach their students, she says.

While at the Smithsonian, Glassco took time for her own enrichment and was particularly moved by the National Museum of African American History. “‘America was great for who?’ I was thinking about while I was there,” Glassco recalls. “We need to have aloha. We need to have compassion for all people.”

Glassco’s research allowed her to use the Library of Congress, where she held one of the first Hawaiian bibles ever printed. The library’s collection also houses one of the earliest Hawaiian spelling books, and treaties made with the United States. Glassco even found genealogy books for her husband’s family and scanned the two volumes full of rich history to bring home. “It’s so amazing when I think of all the things in Washington, D.C., so far away from Hawaiʻi,” she notes.

NMAI is unique, every aspect of the museum was done with the consultation of Native cultural specialists of various tribes and the belief that all artifacts have mana, Glassco explains. The museum has a cultural resource center and a ceremonial room that Native people can use when they visit. One of the museum’s four cardinal boulders comes from Hawaiʻi Island – Glassco bathed it with Hawaiian salt water, left a ti-leaf lei and offered an oli (chant). “We want our people to know about Kane pō, so they can also visit and touch the pōhaku,” she says.

Some of the cultural objects at the Smithsonian should be returned, says Glassco. “There are a lot of Hawaiian artifacts that they have there that should be brought home. I talked to some of the people at the American history museum. They’re moving toward repatriation and are a lot more open to bringing back things to where they belong.”

Explore the Native Knowledge 360º resources at