New Course At LAHS Focuses on Native American Cultural Studies

Los Alamos High School is offering a course in Native American Cultural Studies/Courtesy LAPS


Ten LAHS students joined teacher Kimberly Engelking this semester for the inaugural New Mexico Native American Cultural Studies class. 

Engelking pursued this course offering in response to the School Board’s resolution in recognition of Native American Heritage month in November 2018. The Board resolved to use Native American history and culture in our curriculum and activities at school to interact with tribal leadership as well as the Yazzie/Martinez court decision.

LAPS is fully aware of the New Mexico Supreme Court ruling of the Yazzie/Martinez case and is working towards implementation of the court’s ruling.

“Native American Cultural Studies will be an important step in complying with the court’s decision and following the district’s resolution,” said Engelking in her request to add the course to the curriculum at LAHS. “This decision directly impacts our students as a great many students of Native American descent are enrolled in Los Alamos Public Schools.” 

She added that this course will provide a counter-narrative to the current practice of what happened to the Native and Indigenous people of New Mexico and celebrate the concepts and core values that have allowed them to maintain their cultural identity, accomplishments, and sovereignty. The course will strive to strengthen the identity of the Native American students. In addition, non-Native American students will become intellectually aware of the challenges and achievements of a vital part of our population and foster understanding and respect.

Engelking has been teaching New Mexico history for the past four years. During a NM History class, one of her guest speakers asked if she would be teaching the students about a particular topic. She said there wasn’t enough time in a one semester course.  

She explained, “I looked at the textbook. There were two pages concerning The Long Walk and Code Talkers, a page and a half concerning the fight for civil rights and protection of sacred lands. The only mention of the Pueblo people was a caption under a picture. I realized there were huge holes in our curriculum. How can the experience of 10 percent of New Mexico’s population and several thousands of years of history be taught in four pages? Our students need a 360 degree view of history. My hope is that the course will strengthen the identity of the Native American students and foster understanding and respect of the cultural values of all our students.”

And her current students agree. Julia Butcher, a sophomore who transferred to LAHS this semester, said that she chose this class because she has always had an interest in learning about different cultures, especially since she recently just moved here.

“I find it great to have the opportunity to learn about people’s cultures and backgrounds,” she said. 

Junior Jerome Ulibarri said, “I took this class so I can see how other people look at my Native Culture.”

“Our other course offerings are valuable and imperative to a citizen’s understanding of our world, but none have a specifically cultural component that addresses the critical role of our indiginous neighbors and their valuable view of the world,” noted Engelking. “This course is designed to do just that. It is also the only course specifically tailored to foster a desire to remain a New Mexican and work to improve the complicated race relations and cultural coexistence of our state.”

Course selection for the 2021-2022 school year is open Jan. 22 – Feb. 3. Click here for more information.

Native American Cultural Studies Course Description:
Ready to explore the rich Native American culture of New Mexico? This course will examine the culture, values, struggles, and triumphs of the indigenous people of New Mexico. The study of sacred and historic lands, cultural artifacts, traditions, as well as federal and state policies will be covered. Apache, Navajo, and Pueblo experiences will be studied. The intent of the course is to foster an understanding and improvement of the complicated race relations and cultural coexistence of the diverse citizens of our state. Projects, guest speakers, and field trips will be an important part of the class experience. This class is open to students in grades 10-12.