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Dreamstarter Teacher Eli Redeker: Creating a Native American Young Adult Literature Study Program

Eli Redeker of Charlo, Montana, is an English Language Arts/reading teacher (as well as the junior high football and boys’ basketball and high school track coach and National Honor Society Advisor) at Charlo Jr/Sr. High School serving students of the confederated Salish & Kootenai (Flathead) tribes.

Eli used his $1,000 Dreamstarter Teacher grant to implement a Native American Young Adult literature study program at his school.

“I believe student engagement is a key to young adult literacy,” Eli told us in his Dreamstarter Teacher application. “I do not see a lot of student engagement in my American Indian students as they read traditional young adult novels. I wish to buy a set of novels that will engage and inform my Native students.”

With his grant funding, Eli created a library of dozens of Native American books for his 50 students.

“These texts are written by American Indian authors and are both contemporary and traditional. Students were to choose an individual text from this library and make a presentation on their book by the end of the year.

As was hoped, Eli reported that his students “became more engaged in Native American literature and explored authors who are not part of the standard school curriculum.

“Students were also able to make ‘text to self’ and ‘text to world’ connections relating to their choice text.

“My classroom library was expanded and diversified. Students created engaging and creative publications.”

One of the “choice texts” he selected for his classroom was journalist Abe Streep’s nonfiction book “Brothers on Three – A True Story of Family, Resistance, and Hope on a Reservation in Montana” which about a high school basketball team and set in their Flathead Reservation community. (The New York Times in a September 2021 article stated, “Streep follows the Arlee Warriors through a historic season, but his real interest lies in the lives of the players and their families on the Flathead Indian Reservation.”)

“The protagonists in this book are rivals with our school,” Eli told us. “Our school, our community, and our basketball program are presented in an unfavorable light.

“This was upsetting to some students, but most-if not all- students began to see the relevance of viewing our community through a different lens.”

One of his Native students’ life was changed after he read the 1986 novel “Fools Crow” by Native American author Jim Welch. The novel is set in Montana shortly after the Civil War and tells the story of a young Blackfeet Indian on the verge of manhood as the invasion of white society threatens to change his traditional way of life. The book culminates in the tragic Marias Massacre of 1870, in which the U.S. Cavalry kills a friendly band of Blackfeet, consisting of mostly non-combatants.

“He went from being a student who would rarely read to a student who now consumes rather challenging novels regularly.

“It is a huge accomplishment and something that I take massive pride in.”

Eli applied for his Dreamstarter Teacher grant with the overarching goal of “creating a more welcoming, enriching environment for tribal students from all around our valley and reservation, to engage more Native students, create a more welcoming environment, and foster growth and independence through empowering literature.”

And following the conclusion of the school year, Eli stated, “I think this project was a fantastic success.

“I believe that our Native students were well served by this project as it felt more individualized toward their way of life.

“I believe that our white students became more familiar with their classmates and developed a more holistic understanding of a culture that they often seem to disregard.

“I think this was a tremendous success and I have recommended Running Strong for American Indian Youth® to dozens of other educators in and around the Flathead Valley.”

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