5 Ways Native American Education Is Getting Better Heading Into 2015
Tanya H. Lee
The 2014 Native Youth Report, prepared by the White House and released in December 2014, states, “Native youth and Native education are in a state of emergency.” The report makes a series of recommendations intended to improve education for American Indian and Alaska Native children over the next decades.
But it is hopeful to note that some promising initiatives and trends are already underway, having been started or expanded in 2014.
Improvements in Public School Curriculum
One part of this trend is providing culturally relevant education for Native students, which is happening—to a greater or lesser extent—in many public schools on or near reservations. The other is developing curriculum to teach all students about the history and contributions of Indigenous Peoples to our nation. For example, Kentucky is “working on a curriculum about Kentucky Native Americans geared to Common Core standards, which would enhance history curriculum already in place,” says Helen Danser, Cherokee, chairwoman of the Kentucky Native American Heritage Commission.
Some school districts and states—the Marysville School District in Washington state, Montana, North Dakota and Maine, for example—mandate teaching Native American history and culture to all students in public schools, while in others the state department of education has been tasked with developing curriculum that schools and teachers may opt to use. For example, the Minnesota Office of Indian Education provides information, resources, and support to public schools for teaching Native American history and Utah is working on an Indian Curriculum Project.
Bans on American Indian Related Mascots and Logos
California, Colorado, Oregon, the District of Columbia, Oklahoma City and Houston are among the municipalities that have proposed or passed bans on the use of mascots and logos that are derogatory to American Indian tribes and individuals. When the Oklahoma City Public Schools Board passed such a ban in December, Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief George Tiger, said, “As the Principal Chief of the fourth largest federally recognized Native American tribe in the United States, it is with great respect and appreciation that I commend the Board of the Oklahoma City Public Schools for their decision to terminate the use of racially offensive and demeaning mascots within their school system… I encourage the OKCPS Board to remain steadfast in your resolve to do the right thing, even in the face of adversity, for that is the true measure of a righteous decision. Disrespect and degradation should never be an outcome, even if it is unintended.”
Ensuring that American Indian communities, schools, colleges and universities have high-speed Internet access is critical to improving education and economic development opportunities in Indian country. U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced at the 2014 Tribal Nations Conference that 20 percent of the $9.7 million in grants awarded through its 2501 program would go to Native American communities and institutions. The grants included a $5.4 million loan to upgrade broadband service on New Mexico’s Mescalero Apache Reservation.
Through the White House ConnectED initiative, intended to bring next-generation broadband to 99 percent of America’s students by 2018, Apple, Inc., just awarded a grant to provide every student at the remote Hoopa Valley High School on the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation with an iPad, teachers and administrators with iPads and Macs and classrooms with Apple TVs, and to improve wifi at the school. Under the same initiative, Verizon is supplying network infrastructure for American Indian youth at 10 school-related dormitories on reservations across the West and Midwest.
President Obama’s Generation Indigenous Initiative
Announced at the 2014 Tribal Nations Conference, President Obama’s Generation Indigenous initiative is intended to improve opportunities for Native youth. Among the programs included are new Native Youth Community Projects that will support culturally relevant strategies to improve the college-and-career readiness; a National Tribal Youth Network to support leadership development; the release of the 2014 White House Native Youth Report mentioned above; a Cabinet Native Youth Listening Tour; and the first White House Tribal Youth Gathering, a day-long convention in the summer of 2015.
New Tribal Colleges
Two new tribal colleges will expand efforts in Native American language revitalization and provide new, culturally-appropriate educational opportunities for Native youth. The San Carlos Apache Tribe is partnering with Arizona State University and Eastern Arizona College to build a tribal college on the reservation. And the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation is spearheading efforts to build the California Tribal College to serve students from the state’s 130 American Indian tribes and its large urban American Indian/Alaskan Native populations.