‘Optimism and hope’ expected at NIEA convention

WASHINGTON – Educators from across the country committed to improving educational opportunities for American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students will gather to trade information and learn from one another at the 40th annual convention of the National Indian Education Association.

“During this four-day event we learn from each other and take that knowledge back to our communities to implement,” said NIEA President Robert B. Cook. “For example, an experienced second grade teacher from Standing Rock will meet a new elementary school teacher from Ganado. They will talk to one another and share what works best for them. The examples are limitless, from a college professor talking to a high school student, to a Native Hawaiian teacher talking to a reservation school principal. Our organization provides that link, which is what this convention is all about.”

The convention, being held Oct. 22 – 25, is expected to draw more than 2,000 attendees who will have the opportunity to participate in a trade show with more than 150 exhibitors, four general assemblies, research strands, workshops and forums, the Native Language and Tribal Leaders Summits, youth and elder events and cultural activities.

New this year, the NIEA Pow Wow is being co-hosted with the 5th Annual Potawotami Hunting Moon Pow Wow at the Potawatomi Bingo Casino. There will be a grand entry Friday at 6 p.m. for NIEA participants.

NIEA is committed to protecting cultural and linguistic traditions while moving Indian country toward educational equity. Incorporated in 1970, NIEA is the largest and oldest Indian education organization in the nation working to ensure Native educators and students are represented in various educational institutions and forums throughout the country.

NIEA has become a strategic policy maker for Indian education, supporting increased Johnson O’Malley funding to meet actual student population needs and an increase for fiscal year 2010 of $10 million, to $66 million, for Native language programs under the Esther Martinez Act, which preserves fluency in American Indian languages through the award of competitive grants. NIEA is also urging a five percent increase over the 2009 funding level for Title VII of the No Child Left Behind Act. Title VII provides support for culturally based educational approaches for Native students.

“Our nation has that optimistic feeling again,” said Lillian Sparks, NIEA executive director. “Our members have also taken that optimistic feeling and are bringing it to our convention. Our programs and events have expanded, our Native Language Summit is now a three-day event within the convention and our Research Strands are now held on two days. We have a lot of good things to report from Washington that our members can take home. This will be a convention of optimism and hope for our students, our languages and our cultures.”

The first general assembly will feature keynote speaker Will Antell, White Earth Ojibwe, one of NIEA’s founders. Friday’s general assembly will host two keynote speakers; Miss Yenikhulhaka’nyese (she persuades them) Leida Rodriguez, of the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin and Ernest L. Stevens Jr., Oneida Tribe, National Indian Gaming Association chairman. Rodriguez is 7 years old and going into the third grade. She represents the Milwaukee area schools as a youth assistant in cultural public presentations and is involved in learning her native Oneida language.

Saturday’s keynote address will be given by Dr. Marie Battiste, a Mi’kmaq educator from Potlo’tek First Nations, and professor in the College of Education and coordinator of the Indian and Northern Education Program at the University of Saskatchewan. Addressing Sunday’s general assembly will be Winona LaDuke, of the Mississippi Band of Anishinaabeg of the White Earth Reservation. At the age of 18 she addressed the United Nations on Indian issues and in 1994, was named by Time magazine as one of the nation’s 50 most promising leaders under the age of 40.

The Tribal Leaders’ Summit will provide tribal leaders an opportunity to participate in strategy sessions addressing legislation and how federal statutes dealing with Indian education can be positively influenced. Ahniwake Rose, National Congress of American Indians education and health policy analyst, will give a briefing from NCAI, and a discussion on education appropriations and legislative strategy will be led by Ryan Wilson, NIEA board member.

NIEA Youth Day 2009 will be held during the convention on Friday from 7:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Local and visiting high school students have been invited to participate in the Student Townhall Summit on High School Graduation and Dropout Prevention. Students will present their opinions about high school reform, the dropout crisis, and what can be done to meet student’s needs to help them successfully graduate from high school and be prepared for college. Students ideas will be represented by a report presented at the NIEA Legislative Summit.

In addition to the powwow, convention highlights include Cultural Night on Thursday when participants will be shuttled to the Indian Community School of Milwaukee, Inc. for breakout sessions, dances, games and a short film. An awards banquet will be held Saturday evening celebrating NIEA’s 2009 honorees.

The UW-Milwaukee School of Continuing Education, in coordination with NIEA, is offering CEU credits at the convention. Stop by the SCE booth to register.

The convention will be at the Midwest Airlines Center, 400 W Wisconsin Ave. For more information, visit www.niea.org.