In numerous treaties, the United States pledged to provide education for Indian children in exchange for the cession of millions of acres of land. Yet the educational resources afforded to Indian country are substandard and they have been for many generations. In the Kennedy Report of 1969, the failures of the Indian education system were fully documented. Historically, Native children were shipped off to boarding schools where the goal was to completely acculturate the students by forbidding the use of native languages, prohibiting the practice of cultural activities, and outlawing native religions. This left a devastating legacy of disrupted families, communities and Native nations.
In the 1970s, through the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, Congress established a goal of returning Native education to local control and many Indian schools are now under local control, yet many remain under Bureau of Indian Education control. The BIE currently funds 186 schools for 40,000 Indian students – 120 managed or operated by tribal governments as contract or grant schools and 66 continue to be operated by the BIE.
The Department of Education, Office of Indian Education and 42 federal programs provide educational funding assistance for 600,000 Native students.
BIE funding per student continues to lag behind funding for students in the U.S. Department of Defense schools and public schools. The Department of Education, Office of Indian Education and 42 federal programs provide educational funding assistance for 600,000 Native students (representing over 90 percent of Indian students) in the public school sector, operated by states and state subdivisions, yet there is not enough coordination with tribal governments concerning the education of these Native American students.
As tribal leaders, we call upon President Obama to make Indian education a top priority of the administration’s Indian policy. The president should issue an Executive Order and a Special Message to Congress to achieve the following:
- Strengthen tribal control of Indian education: Require states and state subdivisions to collaborate with tribal governments on the education of Native students in public schools; Statutory collaboration between local education agencies and tribes to develop a comprehensive plan for Native student achievement; Improve data collection and sharing of data with tribes to achieve a baseline on our incredible diversity; Restore director of Indian education to Assistant Secretary for Indian Education DED. This position and office must be elevated so there is authority to engage in all titles of the ESEA that impact Native student education; For Alaska Natives, the ISDEA provisions are not in place and the funds have been cut off. This has had devastating consequences for Alaska Native children, who receive substandard, second class educational services in urban and rural Alaska as a result.
- Invest in cultural and language revitalization:
Use of culturally-based education as a promising practice in public schools that encourages quality instructional practices rooted in cultural and linguistically relevant context; Formula grant program for immersion school, culturally based charter schools, and early childhood centers to support Native language instruction.
- Focus on Native teachers, administrators and leaders:
A pay program for teachers in Indian country providing higher salaries on a scaled program to incentivize long term employment in Native schools; Strengthen and expand Native teachers and administrators preparation program reauthorization and increase annual funding for the Department of Education’s Professional Development for Teachers and Administrators program.
- Promote intra-agency coordination and collaboration:
Increased collaboration with the Department of Interior and the Department of Education to include training and technical assistance for BIE staff.
Establish a tribal advisory committee to advise the Secretary of the Interior on policy issues and budget development for the BIE school system; Increase on-the-ground resources and provisions from the BIE for the school.
President Obama, urgent action is needed to safeguard the future of our Native children. As you get ready to reauthorize the ESEA, please recognize the unique needs of our students and the treaty based pledges that the United States has made to provide for Indian education.
Havasupai Tribal Councilor
Chairperson, Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake -Norman Arriola
President, Ketchikan Indian Community -Andy Ebona
President, Rural Alaska, LAP -Megan Gregory
Youth Representative, Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska -Michael Williams
Secretary & Treasurer, Akiak Native Community -Chandler Sanchez
Governor, Pueblo of Acoma -Chris McNeil Jr.
President, Sealaska Corporation -James De La Cruz
5th Councilman, Quinault Indian Nation -McCoy Oatman
Chairman, Nez Perce Tribe -Evelyn Thomas
Alaska -D.R. Thomas
Alaska -Scott Cozart
Chairman, Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians -Paulette Jordan
Councilwoman, Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Idaho -April Ferguson
Vice President, Bristol Bay Native Corporation -Morris Reid
Chairman, Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians -Paula Pechonick
Chief, Delaware Tribe of Oklahoma -Chester Brooks
Assistant Chief, Delaware Tribe of Oklahoma
Chairman, Delaware Tribe Trust Bank -Leroy Jackson
Councilman, Hoopa Valley Tribe -Frances M. Poowegup
Vice Chairman, Business Committee Ute Indian Tribe -Arthur Fawcett
Mayor, Metlakatla, Alaska -Lee Wallace
President, Organized Village of Saxman -Gus Frank
Chairman, Forest County Potawatomi -Willard Jackson
Tribal Council Secretary, Ketchikan Indian Community -Michael Strickman
Naluto Tribal Council Alaska -Richard M. Milanovich
Tribal Chairman, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians -Nathan Small
Chairman, Fort Hall Business Council Shoshone-Bannock Tribes -Cisco C. Minthorn
Staff Attorney, George Waters Consulting Service
Councilwoman, Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation