Integrating Native American traditions in one Montana classroom

Cecil Crawford (l) and Nancy Larum (r) co-teach at Hellgate High School in Montana.

StoryCorps Door-to-Door traveled to Missoula, Montana, to record stories for our National Teachers Initiative. We were hosted by the Graduation Matters Missoula program, and during our stay, we met Cecil Crawford, a Blackfeet Native American teacher at Hellgate High School, and his co-teacher, Nancy Larum.

According to Cecil, he does not teach by giving directions but by telling stories, and in discussing his life’s work, he did just that. Cecil speaks with a calming cadence in his voice, and after our conversation I felt relaxed and overtaken by his infectious serenity. He shared a story of how one night, he dreamt of himself teaching a classroom full of Native American children. He took the dream as a sign and left his reservation to become the first teacher to implement a Native American studies curriculum in a high school outside the Indian reservation. This later became a model for other schools across Montana and other states.

Throughout the interview, Cecil described his teaching style and a typical day in the classroom: He starts by shaking each student’s hand. He engages them in Blackfeet traditions — like smudging, burning sweetgrass, and beading — as a meditation practice, and designates time for storytelling and community-centered announcements.

Cecil is seen as a role model in the community, Nancy says, empowering Native American students to succeed at Hellgate High through their own culture and classroom rituals.

To read more about our trip to Missoula, click here.


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