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Young Native American population demands strong advocates

BILLINGS, Mont. -- With nearly 60 percent of the Native American population under the age of 25, education for Native peoples will continue to need strong advocates in the future, Carole Anne Heart told the National Indian Education Association.

Heart, association president, said she was particularly pleased to see a growing number of delegates with advanced degrees in education, law and medicine.

In the future, the NIEA will have to confront several issues, including making sure treaties are upheld, adequate funding for reservation schools along with honoring language and culture in education, Heart said.

Education doesn't mean the loss of identity, said Heart.

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"You take the best of the white man and the best of our culture and leave the bad of both behind."

The high dropout rates among Native American students are troubling, she said. In 1972, nearly 33 percent of Native American youths dropped out before graduating from high school. Almost 30 years later, that continues at nearly the same rate, she said.

To reduce that rate, problems such as poverty, the breakdown of home and family, a lack of enough American Indian teachers and the long distances many students have to travel to school on rural reservations must be addressed.

Heart said more places for youth must be built including youth centers, playgrounds and libraries where young people can go after school.