Theresa Hinman: Native American Advocate
For many, the start of a new year means setting new goals and intentions for the year ahead. Theresa Hinman is the founder and president of the Coalition for the Betterment of Indian Education (C4BIE) and is setting her intensions on creating a better future for all children.
Theresa is Native American and a member of the Ponca Nation. As a direct descendant of two well-known leaders, Chief Standing Bear and Chief Red Leaf, she carries the torch of leadership toward a greater good for all people.
TK: Can you share your experience growing up as a Native American in Tulsa?
Theresa: Growing up in Tulsa was my dad’s master plan to teach me how to be a servant leader. My parents invested in private education at Marquette Catholic School, where I studied with members of the Bartlett and LaFortune families. I believe Dad wanted to teach me that there was no difference in leadership development of the grandchild of the hereditary line of The Great Ponca Nation Chiefs and the traditional Tulsa line of leaders.
When I later attended Tulsa Public Schools, I enjoyed the fellowship of my Indian Pupil Education program and my coordinator, Lillian Williams. The beauty of this program was the interactive activities that our leaders, including Archie Mason, coordinated with other Indian Education programs in neighboring school districts. The network created through our Indian Pupil Education program is still a major component of my life. Many students now are leaders in our Tribal communities.
TK: Your family lineage includes strong leaders; can you share a little about who they were and their significance?
Theresa: I am a direct descendent of the Chiefs of the Ponca Nation, Chief Standing Bear, Chief White Eagle, and Chief Red Leaf. Both Chief Standing Bear and Chief Red Leaf fought the Federal Government for rights for our people and won. As a granddaughter of these chiefs, I have to be of service to everybody and give the gift of hospitality and the gift of servant leadership.
TK: What is one of the leadership philosophies that you consider important?
Theresa: To value everyone’s opinions and keep them with you as you move through life.
TK: Why did you decide to become an advocate for Native American Education?
Theresa: Some Indian educators came to me in March of 2020 when Tulsa Public Schools was going to reorganize the Indian Education program and redirect the funds and resources to Student Services. They needed help to raise awareness of this change that the Tribes were not made aware of.
TK: What is the history of Indian Education in public schools?
Theresa: When the Indian Education program was initially created, back in the 1970s, it was to help Native Americans embrace their culture because we have unique learning styles. The Federal Government was trying to colonize us to assimilate us. Historically, the U.S. government created education systems to “kill the Indian, save the man.” The objective was to kill all aspects of our culture, languages, regalia and ways of being. Colonization was the objective; the weapon was education.
TK: What are the backgrounds of some of the coalition members?
Theresa: We are blessed to have a great array of different leaders. These people are engrained in the community and are nationally acclaimed individuals. All are Native American experts from many different fields including a retired Tulsa Police Officer, Vietnam veteran, and former President of the Pawnee Nation; another is a business owner of Southwest Trading Company; and yet another is a banking, finance and economic development leader and graduate of Harvard and Yale. We also have two retired former Indian Pupil Education Directors, one received prior national recognition for excellence, and a best-selling author who is a nationally acclaimed cybersecurity expert and keynote speaker-CEO of Iroquois descent. Some of our members are of multinational descent and represent our community in a good way.
TK: What schools are you working with?
Theresa: People from across the state are reaching out to us about any curriculum issues or injustices or negative impacts to our programming in the schools. We do our best to intervene and inspire school districts to provide a safe space for our people.
TK: How do you think things are progressing so far?
Theresa: What I’m seeing right now is great! I am happy to see things moving in the right direction for our people and not seeing our people dehumanized as mascots. Although that isn’t our focal point, ours is curriculum, we support those individuals and groups who help make these things happen – we all work in unison and community.
TK: What do you hope to accomplish with your advocacy?
Theresa: We love all children. We are about equity and safe spaces. The opportunity for Indigenous curriculum to be in school systems. Some schools offer Indigenous language classes that tribes offer as options for children to learn a foreign language. I’d like to see more of those partnerships in schools.
TK: Why do you feel Native American Education is important for all students?
Theresa: Eventually we think this will help eradicate racism because everyone will understand other people’s backgrounds and groups. The benefit will be the eradication of racism. Learning the languages and the ways of being of the host nations will equip all students with a less self-centered lens and a more panoramic lens that everything is connected, and we are to be good stewards of all entrusted to us.
To learn more about the Coalition for the Betterment of Indian Education or to connect with Theresa, visit her on Facebook at: facebook.com/theresa.hinman1.
Nancy A. Moore is a Public Relations Co – ordinator at Montereau, Adjunct Professor at Tulsa Community College, and has been writing for TulsaKids for almost 20 years.
Listen to Nancy’s visit with Alisha on the Sharing Passion and Purpose Podcast.