Alum works to lift up the teaching of Native American history and culture

August 22, 2019

Alison Martin (MEd ’19), a recent graduate of the University of Washington’s curriculum and instruction program, is participating in a prestigious teacher-in-residence program this summer at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). 

During the eight-week residency, Martin is working with leaders in the field of Native education and curriculum development. And while she won’t see exhibits come to life at night, she has an exciting opportunity to help make Native American history and culture more relevant, accurate and contemporary for teachers and students across the nation.

Martin’s residency places her on the team for Native Knowledge 360° (NK360°) – a national effort to improve the teaching and learning of Native American history and cultures. NK360° develops educational materials and teacher training to advance understanding of the complexity, diversity and relevancy of Native peoples and ensure that Native youth see their stories reflected in their education.

Prior to this summer’s residency and her studies at the UW, Martin worked with youth for a couple of years in outdoor education programs at IslandWood on Bainbridge Island and in parts of Nevada and California.

"I’ve always had a really strong connection to nature, Mother Earth, and feeling this intense need to protect her,” Martin said. While teaching in outdoor education, she strove to counter a perspective that views humans and the world around them as separate entities.

“We humans are an integral part of that web of life,” Martin said. “So, something I see that’s so important in outdoor education and education in general is helping heal that divorce that happened, because I believe that that has led us to a lot of issues that we are facing now with climate change and environmental and social injustices.”

Martin credits Dawn Hardison-Stevens, the program manager of the UW’s Native Education Certificate program, for giving her the motivation and courage to apply for the residency.

After seeing Hardison-Stevens speak at a conference with such joy and passion about advancing Native education, Martin said, “It opened up a possibility for me that I hadn't seen before.” She could imagine herself – a descendant of the Karuk tribe, an Indigenous people of California – making real systems change by sharing Indigenous perspectives about the past, present and future in ways that speak to the hearts and minds of non-Native communities.

"It also means tribal sovereignty not being a thing that just Indigenous folks are talking about, but that all people are talking about and understanding truly and deeply what that means and how important it is for us," Martin said.

The intersection of Western and Indigenous science systems is another area of interest for Martin, she noted, along with ways to disrupt the history of “Western science dismissing, ignoring and even degrading Indigenous science systems.”

"I’m calling for Western scientists to recognize our valid ways of knowing, as well as the power that both our communities gain when we find those liminal spaces where they work with each other and bring out the best in one [an]other," she said.

During her residency, Martin has worked closely with curriculum developers to design and test teaching materials, applying her perspective as a teacher and a descendant of the Karuk tribe to continue enhancing curriculum content for the museum. 

“[E]verything I do, I do with the mindset and the heart of always wanting to do right by my ancestors," she said. "So, I’m always thinking about that, how can I best serve both my ancestors and the ones that are to come after me?”

After her residency, Martin will be teaching Native education in the Seattle region. By re-familiarizing herself with the classroom, she hopes to establish a strong foundation that will advance her curriculum development and educational leadership skills.

Story by Tracy Dinh, marketing and communications student aide.


Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications