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Indian education awaiting federal primetime

WAHINGTON – If one area important to many Native Americans received less attention than it deserved in 2009, it was Indian education.

The main emphasis of the national agenda involving tribes largely wasn’t focused on improving Native educational needs. Instead, health, Carcieri, and tribal law and order received far greater overall consideration.

At a Capitol Hill gathering of tribal leaders in November meant to mark the four decade anniversary of the famous education-focused Kennedy Report, some said reservation violence has tended to receive plenty of congressional attention as of late, when education should be focused on more strongly as a preventative solution.

“What Indian education really needs today is an individual like Robert or Ted Kennedy in Congress who truly understands and embraces full tribal sovereignty in education,” said John Echohawk, director of the Native American Rights Fund.

The National Indian Education Association has noted that Indian country received some funds focused on education as a result of February’s stimulus legislation. Plus, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has made preliminary outreach to Indian educators.

Also important, the assault on culture-based learning that became somewhat of a calling card of the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind Act has been curbed.

Lending some promise that more attention will soon be paid to Indian education was the advancement of Lillian Sparks, the former Lakota executive director of the NIEA, within the Obama administration in October.

However, her appointment is with the Administration for Children and Families at the Department of Health and Human Services, not with Education.

Indian educators have vowed to make their concerns a priority with federal lawmakers on the national scene in 2010.