ELMHURST, Ill. – The White House announced June 28 President Barack Obama’s intent to appoint Elmhurst College President Alan Ray to the National Advisory Council on Indian Education.
Ray was one of four individuals named to serve on the council, which advises and makes recommendations to the U.S. Department of Education on federal issues, programs and services pertaining to the education of Native American youth and adults.
Three other members appointed to the council by the president include Samuel McCracken, a member of the Sioux and Assiniboine tribes in northeastern Montana on the Ft. Peck Indian Reservation; Mary Jane Oatman-Wak Wak, a member of the Nez Perce Tribe; and Alapaki Nahale, who has strong ties to the Native Hawaiian community.
Ray is honored to have a chance to work with others on the council on issues crucial to the future of Native American young people and adults. “It is a rare opportunity for any of us who are Native American to be invited to be part of a conversation at that level. I think the potential for improving educational opportunities for reservations and those areas that have traditionally struggled to educate their young people are probably greater now under President Obama than they have been in many years.”
Ray said the history of Native peoples indicates that in many cases education is not a neutral one-size-fits-all success story. “What I am optimistic about is that the federal government may, with this council, be able to obtain federal support and funding for ways in which Native peoples learn best and for curriculum that suits our futures.”
Ray, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, said he would like to thank Cherokee Nation Chief Chad Smith for submitting his name to the White House for consideration. “I am very honored by this appointment and make no mistake that this is something the council members will all be doing together as a collective effort. The council has the ear of the president who has indicated an interest in issues that affect Native Americans, but as we all know – there are no quick fixes.
Ray has written about and taught religion, philosophy, federal Indian law, the courts and Native American issues.
A graduate of St. Thomas Seminary, Ray earned a master’s degree in theological studies from Harvard Divinity School and went on to earn an M.A. and Ph.D. in the study of religion from Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. He also holds a J.D. degree from the University of California, Hastings College of Law. Ray serves on the Cherokee Nation’s language immersion school advisory board and has served since 2008 as president of Elmhurst College, a four-year liberal arts institution.
Previous to accepting his current post, he held the position of senior vice provost for the University of New Hampshire. Prior to that, he was the associate dean for academic affairs at Harvard Law School where he was in charge of administering faculty hiring and curriculum planning. He also served in a variety of roles in the Harvard University Native American Program. Additionally, Ray has taught at Boston College, Harvard Divinity School and Harvard Law School.
With a strong background in academic administration, Ray said he would bring that expertise with him as a council member as well as an experiential background in tribal education and affairs. “I am adopted and was raised by a very loving white family. I have some familiarity with the educational norms and systems that the majority culture has, and thankfully also experience with the Cherokee Nation and the values in education it has. As I became an adult and started my career I became involved in issues of contemporary Native American culture, particularly in federal Indian law, which has become part of my professional work over the past 15 – 20 years.”
According to a White House press release, Obama said, “I am proud to nominate such accomplished and dedicated individuals to fill these important roles. They will be valuable additions to my administration as we work to confront our challenges at home and abroad, and I look forward to working with them in the months and years ahead.”
Appointments to the National Advisory Council on Indian Education, according to Ray, are open-ended at the pleasure of the president.