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Osseo Area Schools celebrate Minnesota's Indigenous roots with year-round curriculum

From folktales and legends to geography and history, Minnesota's Indigenous past is celebrated with unique lessons across the district.

MAPLE GROVE, Minn. — "In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue." For generations, that is how schools introduced elementary students to the discovery of the New World.

Now schools, like those in the Osseo district, are refocusing to go deeper into America's origins and the people who lived here first.

At Rice Lake Elementary in Maple Grove, storytime strays from fairytales and into legends and folktales from Minnesota's native ancestors. 

Principal Diane Bagley, a proud descendant of the White Earth Anishinaabe tribe, sees Native storytelling as an incredible teaching opportunity. "We have kids in such diversity in the school that I want them to see that everybody's culture matters," said Bagley. 

During a telling of "Turtle Island," a creation story, Bagley explained that her grandmother passed this tale to her. The kids could then ask questions, connect to their cultures, and get to know each other more deeply. Bagley said the process can help Rice Lake "be that kind of diverse global community that our kids need." 

At Zanewood Community School in Brooklyn Park, Ellie Radaj, the library media specialist, helped expand the school's native lessons. "The very first thing I noticed when I got this job and came into our school library was the flags, and [they] just kind of inspired my natural curiosity." 

Highlighted and hung on the walls are four Dakota flags:

  • The Shakopee Mdewakanton Dakota community
  • Prairie Island
  • The Upper Sioux
  • The Lower Sioux community

The flags often spark the students' curiosity as well. They're able to learn symbolism. For instance, the eagle feathers on each of the Dakota flags represent someone who carries messages from this world to the next. 

Beyond flags, Zanewood's library includes Indigenous stories like "Josie Dances," "It's a Mitig," an Ojibwe language book and "The Misewa Saga" series. Radaj says kids love to draw connections to themselves while also getting a look at a different culture, too. "In this book, there's a scene where she's eating fry bread, for example. And that sparked a whole lot of conversation about like, 'that sounds really similar to a dish that I have in my culture; that sounds like something we eat at home,'" recalled Radaj. 

Osseo Area Schools also has an American Indian Education program where schools develop cultural lessons through experiential learning and are centered on strengthening the identity of the Indigenous child. The district also hosts dance circles and pow-wows and provides educational resources. 

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