Profane attacks by teachers and staff.
Limited access to school activities.
Bias against Native students.
These are just some of the allegations the Tribal Executive Board of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana filed in a complaint with the federal government on June 28 demanding they investigate discrimination against Native youths within the Wolf Point School District in the northeast corner of the state, the ACLU of Montana reported.
“There is substantial evidence that the Wolf Point School District violates federal standards for equal education,” Melina Healey, an attorney and Equal Justice Works Fellow who represents the tribal executive board, said in a press release. “Native students have been systematically disadvantaged in comparison to their non-Native peers through racially biased enforcement of school discipline policies, inequitable access to school activities, and verbal abuse by teachers and staff. We hope that the Departments of Justice and Education will help grant Native students the education and opportunities they deserve.”
Louella Douglas-Contreras, a parent and community member, told the ACLU of Montana that this situation of discrimination is the latest in a long history of aggression toward Native peoples in the state.
“The discrimination our children face builds off a legacy of hostility towards our community and culture,” Douglas-Contreras said. “Our children have the right to feel safe in their schools and supported in their community but instead, they have been ridiculed and taunted by their teachers, administrators, and coaches. We hope that this complaint will start a process of healing. Our children have a right to hope and happiness through education afforded us in the Constitution. We hope the federal government will intervene by investigating these issues. Our children are our future.”
The Wolf Point School District, which has an estimated 800 students, is more than 85 percent-Caucasian, USA Todayreported. “Native students in Wolf Point report the use of racial slurs and harmful stereotypes by white administrators, faculty, and staff,” the complaint reads. “Native students are disproportionately disciplined and excluded from school, often without due process.”
The complaint goes on to ask that the Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice take immediate action. The ACLU of Montana said it stands in support of the tribes and departments have 180 days to respond.
“There is urgent need for the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education to investigate Wolf Point school district’s discriminatory treatment of Native students and due process violations, and assist in bringing the district into compliance with federal law,” the 47-page complaint continues. “The Tribes wish to work with the Departments and the district to provide Native students with an equal education.”
The complaint also says the schools “retaliate” against parents who complain about the discrimination they say their children frequently face.
“Native Student #6’s mother tried diligently to engage with the head basketball coach and the athletic director to address their treatment of her daughter,” a complainant said, according to the complaint. “When she went to the school for these meetings, the head basketball coach cursed at her, and a coach’s wife confronted and harassed her. Another coach lashed out at her, saying, “Fuck your daughter.” The coaches also harassed and demeaned Native Student #6 and her family when they advocated for other Native students. Ultimately, Native Student #6’s mother received a letter from the District banning her from all Wolf Point school properties.”
In response to calls for response on allegations against the district and its employees such as the unnamed coach, the legal team representing the board sent a statement to ICMN that said it was reviewing the complaint and could not address specific allegations at this time. "We take claims of discrimination seriously," the statement on behalf of the board read, "and will cooperate with the federal agencies completely and promptly."
Culture Editor Simon Moya-Smith contributed to this report.