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NIEA at time of change

WASHINGTON – The National Indian Education Association is set to lose a longtime director to the federal government.

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs voted Feb. 11 to confirm Lillian Sparks as commissioner of the Administration for Native Americans at the Department of Health and Human Services. President Barack Obama nominated her for the job in the fall.

Sparks is a citizen of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and the Oglala Lakota Tribe. She is a graduate of Morgan State University and Georgetown University Law Center. Before working for NIEA, she served as a lawyer for the National Congress of American Indians.

If she is confirmed by the full Senate to the position, she will oversee a division aimed at promoting self-sufficiency and cultural preservation of Native Americans and tribes in the United States. It encompasses a variety of community-based projects meant to improve social and economic development, and advocate for language preservation.

NIEA Vice President Teresa Makuakane-Drechsel recognized Sparks’ contributions during her Feb. 8 presentation of the organization’s fifth State of Native Education Address.

“While we are sad about her leaving NIEA, Lillian epitomizes all that NIEA stands for – helping Native people to remain grounded in their traditional cultures, values and communities, while furthering their educational and professional opportunities. We honor her for her professional achievements and commitment to Indian education, and we lift up her parents – Leroy and Georgeline Sparks – for their support of her work with NIEA.”

Gerald Gipp has been chosen by the organization as its interim director.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe citizen previously led the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, and has an extensive background in the field of American Indian education and policy development.

Beyond the leadership change, NIEA is focused on policy development for this year and beyond. Among other fiscal recommendations to the federal government, it has requested a five percent increase in fiscal year 2011 for Title VII, the Native Education, Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The organization is also requesting tribal help to achieve its goals.

“NIEA is asking for Indian country’s assistance in increasing funding for Native education programs,” Makuakane-Drechsel said in her speech. “Our Native children can achieve academic greatness, if their classrooms and other school facilities are structurally safe and they have textbooks and other basic school supplies that are necessary in thriving learning environments.”

Full policy recommendations are available online.