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Native American First

Jack Norton III recalls a question on his 5th grade history quiz: Who discovered America? It seemed like a no-brainer. The Indians, he wrote.

To his dismay, his answer was marked wrong. "It didn't specify 'Europeans,'" he said. "It was disheartening."

Too many other Native Americans have had such disheartening experiences in their education, said Mr. Norton, 39. Now, he's hoping to bring his culture's perspective to California's education system.

Jack Norton III

Late last year, he was elected an at-large member of the board that directs the California School Boards Association, and will represent Native Americans. The 29-member board lobbies the state legislature on education issues and is active in state and local elections.

He is the first Native American to serve on the board.

In the post, which was created for a Native American member, Mr. Norton said he'll forge new relationships to help improve education overall and also to help others recognize concerns of Native Americans, who make up about 1 percent of California's K-12 enrollment. He's worried those students feel alienated or left out of the California schools' curriculum.

"Native American students, especially in urban areas, get lost because they're a relatively small minority," he said. "A large percentage of the dropout rates can be attributed to not valuing American Indians in history or in today's society."

For instance, history classes don't mention the Native Americans' role in the Gold Rush, he said.

Mr. Norton has been a member of the board of the Klamath-Trinity school district in northern California for eight years, where more than half of the 1,200 students are Native American.

He's also a member of the Hoopa Valley tribe.

—Joetta L. Sack

Vol. 21, Issue 22, Page 23

Published in Print: February 13, 2002, as State Journal

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