School Committee looks to resolve concerns over indigenous culture committee

Aug 21, 2023

The new Indigenous People, History and Culture Committee has yet to be formally created, but a presentation at the Aug. 21 School Committee meeting helped work out existing concerns.

At a School Committee meeting last month, members agreed that the town should find a way to require that the indigenous culture committee contain voting indigenous members despite a Town bylaw that voting committee members must be residents. The Select Board reiterated the bylaw at its own meeting in July.  

To address the concerns, Select Board Chair David Tatelbaum and Dartmouth High Spanish teacher Lili Chamberlain, who is also a member of the working group that will become the indigenous culture committee, explained the role of the committee and its work to consult with indigenous tribes. 

“To suggest that just because we do not have a native member in the group makes the group illegitimate is insulting at best,” Chamberlain said. “We’re obviously trying to use primary native sources as much as possible.”

School Committee member Shannon Jenkins said the language in the committee’s “charge,” a description of the committee’s tasks and duties, should require tribal consultation rather than suggest it. 

Jenkins maintained that the town could change its bylaws to allow for a committee to have non-resident voting members. The change would require a vote at Town Meeting, and Tatelbaum said the town is not likely to get behind such a vote.

Because the new committee would only be an advisory committee, Chamberlain said the difference between a voting and non-voting member won’t matter much, as the votes “will not have actual power.” She suggested simply getting rid of the voting and non-voting member aspect of the committee entirely. 

School Committee member Elizabeth Coughlin agreed: “I feel like if no one’s a voting member, then we don’t need to change the bylaw.”

“Why not both?” was the question School Committee Chair Kathleen Amaral asked, meaning the language could be changed to move forward with the indigenous culture committee soon, but the Town could also look into changing the bylaws at Town Meeting. 

The School Committee will now do just that: adjust the language of the indigenous culture committee’s charge, potentially removing voting and non-voting delineations and requiring consultations with tribes. 

The School Committee will discuss the charge again at its next meeting. 

“[The committee] comes from a genuine concern to do the right thing,” Tatelbaum said. “Let’s talk about the language so we can move forward.”