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NIEA Convention Attendance Up

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Despite the squeeze on educational budgets across the country, attendance at the 41st Annual National Indian Education Association’s Convention and Tradeshow increased from last year.

Held in San Diego, Calif., Oct. 7 – 10, the convention attracted more than 2,100 teachers and administrators from across the country – about 400 more than last year’s convention held in Milwaukee, Wis., said NIEA President Mary Jane Oatman-Wak Wak.

The schedule was packed with the usual multiple educational seminars ranging from creating and developing indigenous curriculum in schools to implementing preventive techniques to keep children in school.

To add something new to the mix, officials from the U.S. Department of Education provided a full day of technical workshops. Grant writing experts offered advice on getting and maintaining those funds.

Similar to other conventions in Indian country, NIEA hosted a golf tournament and honored Native students with college scholarships. But what sets NIEA apart from the others was the social pow wow, 5K run/walk, elders network seminars, regional caucuses, and “youth day” workshops.

Eleven accolades were handed out, including two Lifetime Achievement Awards. One went to Joseph McDonald, the founder of and president of Salish Kootenai College, and the other to Elouise Cobell, a banking, accounting and community development manager and the lead plaintiff in Cobell v. Salazar, a class-action lawsuit filed in 1996 on behalf of an estimated 500,000 Native individually-owned money accounts that were allegedly mismanaged by the federal government.

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Oatman-Wak Wak, Nez Perce, described the event as moving and emotional, and recalled the inspirational speech given by keynote speaker Larry Echo Hawk, assistant secretary-Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior. She said that Echo Hawk, Pawnee, not only shared how he overcame obstacles early in life, but how he felt when he got the call from President Barack Obama’s staff asking him to step up to his current role.

When it comes down to fulfilling the goals of NIEA, says Wak, the list is long, but if she could change anything during her year-long run as president, it would be to examine why so few Native men go to college. The statistics are dismal, she noted, with Native men accounting for less than 10 percent of the already low Native population in colleges across the country.

Oatman-Wak Wak correlates it to inadequacies in the K-12 system of record keeping, especially when it comes to disciplinary procedures. She said numerous schools fail to keep accurate records of disciplinary actions against students, and young Native men often fall through the cracks. Kicked out or suspended, some turn to crime instead of college.

Other goals include looking for ways to generate revenue for the organization, and to stretch their strong influence in Indian country beyond hands-on involvement with Indian education legislation on Capitol Hill.

“We have a lot of internal needs as an organization, so we can emerge to that greatness we’re just on the verge of.”

To learn more or donate to NIEA, visit or call (202) 544-7290.