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Background and future of education

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GREAT FALLS, Mont. - Indian education was one subject touched on by a
number of prominent Indian leaders who gathered at a recent symposium in
Great Falls to discuss Indian issues under the theme of "Yesterday, Today
and Tomorrow."

Dr. Gerald Gipp, Standing Rock Sioux, is the executive director of the
American Indian Higher Education Consortium. Having served in Indian
education for over 40 years in positions from coach and teacher to
president of Haskell University, he brings extensive knowledge to his
discussion of tribal colleges.

The destruction of the traditional family learning process and erosion of
tribal languages, combined with white leaders and educational institutions
ignoring the importance of Native culture and language, has been
devastating to Native students, leading to low self-esteem and high dropout
rates. "It has left Native people as the most undereducated and underserved
population in the United States," Gipp said.

Dr. Carey Vicenti, Jicarilla Apache, is a professor of sociology at Fort
Lewis College in Durango, Colo. He concurred regarding the breakdown of the
family unit and its impact on education. "HUD was a really bad thing
because it broke apart the family unit," he said. The role of grandparents
was to raise and help educate the youngsters. "Grandpa and grandma are the
repository of the collective knowledge of your people," he added.

Losing this contact caused youngsters to miss out on learning about human
relations and how to get along - not only with others in society but also
with Mother Nature. "You go to school; they don't tell you how to interact
with the rest of society. The replacement was a new social order, but the
question is-how is it going to help us in the near future?" Vicenti asked.

Gipp saw improvement in the 1960s when tribal communities entered the
self-determination era with the U.S. government. Congress recognized the
past failure of federal policies and value of culture and traditions to
education. The Indian Education Act of 1972 recognized the needs of Indian
students in public school. Then the Indian Self Determination and Education
Assistance Act of 1978 came along, resulting in greater control of schools
funded and operated by the BIA.

"For the first time in the history of formal education, Indian parents were
being welcomed into the school and given a clear role and voice in the
operations of the BIA school," he said.

Tribal colleges were first established in the 1960s, but only six were
established by 1972. The American Indian Higher Education Consortium now
has 36 member colleges and universities, which allows Native communities to
design programs that provide "culturally relevant education," Gipp
commented. "The goal of providing cultural programs is tied to the
revitalization of tribal languages ... and will require the commitment of
the entire tribal community."

Quality and quantity of programs have increased, and four-year and graduate
programs are also being offered. These schools now serve over 30,000
students. New colleges and educational satellites are being organized in
several states, including Washington, Idaho, Alaska, New York, Oklahoma and
Wyoming.

In 1996, President Clinton signed an executive order to establish a White
House Initiative on Tribal Colleges and Universities. This required all
federal agencies to develop plans to increase services and resources to
tribal colleges. President Bush has extended that executive order, thus
reaffirming the government's support. The result has been a dramatic
increase in funding from various government programs. On the downside,
these funds are often competitive and short term, so they won't benefit all
tribal colleges equally.

What does the future hold for American Indian education? There is both hope
and concerns.

Some speakers spoke of the extreme importance of maintaining both tribal
culture and languages. Shanley asked a question of major concern: "How do
you teach culture to people with six or seven different tribes' blood? What
language do you teach and what culture?" Such concerns will likely only
accelerate with time.

Vicenti said he had to leave his reservation to teach because no college or
law school exists there. "That's somewhat the fate of the modern Indian,"
he said. However, he feels one can become bicultural as well as bilingual,
and foresees wonderful things for the future. "Urban Indians have become
the ambassadors of their own people," he commented: most non-Indians aren't
exposed to Indians on reservations, but rather, those in urban settings.

In speaking of the future for tribal colleges and universities, Gipp said:
"the tribal college movement, which is still young in the history of time,
will have much to offer in our future struggles for self-determination.
Tribal colleges and universities represent bright lights of hope in the
skies over Indian country as they bring a new dawn to a vision that
benefits the seventh generation."