MSD traditionally honors 5th grade native students

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

The Marysville School District (MSD) Indian Education Department held a ceremony at the Hibulb Cultural Center Longhouse on the evening of May 31, to honor their fifth-grade students who will be making the transition from elementary to junior high next fall. Native students from the Allen Creek, Cascade Grove, Liberty, Marshall, Kellogg Marsh, Marysville Co-Op, Shoultes and Sunnyside elementary schools were recognized for successfully completing grade school and beginning the next phase of their educational journey. 

The traditional graduation ceremony was inspired by the Quil Ceda Tulalip fifth grade potlatch that is held at the end of every school year. MSD native liaisons were motivated to create a similar ceremony to honor the native students who attended other elementary schools throughout the district. During the ceremony, the students are gifted necklaces with cedar-carved salmon pendants and are offered words of support and encouragement from Tulalip tribal leaders. 

“Students, you hit a milestone on going into a new school,” expressed Tulalip Vice-Chair Woman, Teri Gobin. “You’ve taken a step into a new direction and it’s going to be a wonderful. Next thing you know you’ll be going into high school and then graduating. We look forward to doing anything we can to assist you. I want to encourage you to take advantage of the native liaisons to help you through every step. We’re proud of each and every one of you.” 

The ceremony also serves as a means of introduction between students who will be attending the same middle school but attended different elementary schools; as well as between students and the native liaisons of their new school. 

“We came together as a team to honor the fifth graders as they go to middle school,” said Native Liaison, Zee Jimicum. “It’s a tough transition. Quil Ceda Tulalip Elementary has a fifth-grade transition weekly course to help their students prepare for middle school. So for those kids who don’t have that connection like Quil Ceda Tulalip students, it’s super important that they see our faces so when they get to middle school next year they have that connection.”

MSD native liaisons Terrance Sabbas and Matt Remle performed an honor song for the students on the traditional round drum and presented them with cedar necklaces. Each liaison also introduced themselves and shared their excitement with the future middle schoolers. 

“As a district we wanted to honor, encourage and support these students culturally here in the longhouse,” said Terrance. “We wanted to sing our traditional songs so they can feel at home. We wanted to tie it all together with culture and honor all the work they’ve accomplished.”

The MSD Indian Education Department also thanked Cascade Elementary Principal, Teresa Iyall Williams, for her years of dedication to the youth as she’ll be enjoying the retired life after this school year. Teresa was blanketed by the Indian Education Department and referred to as an ‘inspiration to all the young native girls’ and ‘a great example of how to conduct yourself’ by Tribal member, Denise Hatch-Anderson.

The students received journals from the MSD Indian Education Department so they can document the next three years of their middle school experience. 

“The excitement you have, I hope it continues all the way until you graduate from high school and from college. Whatever you choose to do in this world, we ask you to dream big,” said Deborah Parker, MSD Director of Equity, Diversity and Indian Education.

Dreaming big is exactly what the students plan to do, including Tulalip tribal member Conner Juvinel, who plans to continue pursuing his passion during his middle school years. 

“I dream to become a scientist,” he states. “I enjoy science a lot, like earth studies. It feels terrifying but still pretty awesome to go into middle school. I don’t know what I’m most excited about but I know I’m excited.”

Cultural fair celebrates diversity at QCT Elementary

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News 

Students of Quil Ceda Tulalip Elementary, along with their families, were captivated by the richness of Native American song and dance during the Cultural Fair held on the evening of April 24th. In collaboration with Marysville School District (MSD) Indian Education, Tulalip Youth Services and school staff, the Cultural Fair celebrated the wonderfully diverse community that is the Tulalip/Marysville area. 

Over a hundred participants filled the elementary multi-purpose room where a hearty dinner was enjoyed by all. Following the meal, there was a variety of family-friendly activities to engage in. Interactive booths and presentations represented several cultures from around the world, including Tulalip, Guam, the Philippines and the United Kingdom.

“It’s always nice to learn about other cultures because it creates a better understanding between people,” shared QCT Teacher, Ms. Sablan. Along with her daughter, the duo were presenters of the Guam station. “I taught on Guam for six years and during that time I loved learning about the culture. While there I married and had a daughter who is Pacific Islander. My passion for embracing vibrant culture was the reason I became an educator at Tulalip after attending a Salmon Ceremony years ago.”

As fair goers made their way around the room they gained insights into other cultures and traditions. Of course, the variety of Native cultural stations was the most popular. There was dreamcatcher making under the guidance of experienced staff members and even a fry bread station manned by Chelsea Craig and her daughter Kamaya. 

With the weather cooperating, many people wound up outside after hearing the call of the Native round-drum. Terrance Sabbas, Native Liaison for MSD, led a series of round-drum songs that held the attention of everyone young and old. Several young girls, dressed in their powwow regalia, shared their dance skills to the rhythmic beats of the drum. 

“It means a lot for our kids to have pride in who they are and where they come from,” said Terrance. “When different tribes come together to celebrate with song and dance it’s even more special. Seeing youth who have the confidence to share their dances is awesome. To know they have that within themselves and are willing to share that with our community is inspiring.”

The musical jam session continued with a variety of hand-drum songs led by Ray Fryberg.

The Cultural Fair was a success in putting a spotlight on the richness of a diverse community; knowledge was gained and shared. For those with a strong understanding of historical context, the fact that so many were able to participate in traditional song and dance is a testament to the strong Native spirit.

“When the boarding school was here, our songs, our dances and all our ceremonies were prohibited by law. It was the aim of the government to assimilate the Indians into American society. For many years our people couldn’t speak their language or sing their songs for fear of punishment,” explained Ray Fryberg, Executive Director of Natural Resources. “It’s important for us to know who we are and where we come from, to retain the parts of our culture that make us unique. The boarding school era sought to take all that away from us, but we endured.

“Now, we have our own schools where we can teach our culture to the young ones; it gives them a cultural identity and builds up their self-esteem. The drum has a voice that calls to our people; it has its own good medicine. You can see how much the children love learning their culture. Our songs and dances are an expression of the inner spirit and that’s the one thing that can’t be taken away from us.”

Native Students of the Month Announced for March

Ayana Sabbas, 10th grade, Marysville-Pilchuck H.S.

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News 

“This is one special way that our community has come together, as Marysville School District has partnered with the Tulalip Tribes to announce the Native American students of the month,” explained Deborah Parker, Director of Equity, Diversity and Indian Education, during the regular school board meeting on Monday, March 19.

By creating the Student of the Month Program, MSD Indian Education and the Tulalip Tribes Education Department celebrate individual achievement by sustaining a culture of learning that values academic success and achievement through education. The program is designed so that any Native American student in the Marysville School District, of any age or grade level, can receive the award. However, students who are nominated should prove they value their education by exhibiting academic responsibility. They are also expected to demonstrate excellent behavior in and out of the classroom, which includes being respectful to both teachers and peers.

For their commitment to excellence in the classroom and academic achievement, 10th grader Ayana Sabbas (Nuu-chah-nulth and Shoshone) of Marysville-Pilchuck High School and 4th grader Jacob Skarwecki (Algaaciq from Alaska) of Cascade Elementary were announced as Native American students of the month for March.

Jacob Skarwecki, 4th grade, Cascade Elementary

“Jacob is selected for his enthusiasm, his effort, his integrity, and for being a responsible citizen,” described his Cascade Elementary Principal, Teresa Iyall. “Above all, Jacob shows exemplary behavior, and I am very, very proud that he is our first elementary Native American student of the month. He represents his family, his tribe, Marysville Indian Education, Cascade Elementary, and the Marysville School District in an exemplary manner.”

“Ayana was selected as student of the month for her leadership, being a responsible citizen, and her incredible determination in both her academics and extracurricular activities,” said her MSD Native Liaison, Matt Remle. “She has excelled in her academics, demonstrated by her 3.83 G.P.A. and outstanding attendance. She plays varsity volleyball, participates in MPHS Native Girls Group, and remains active in her culture by being a jingle dress powwow dancer. It’s been an absolute pleasure working with her.”

Going forward, a selection committee will review all student nominations based on their academics and school engagement. Each month two Native students (one boy, one girl) will be recognized as students of the month.

“It feels amazing!” admitted Ayana about receiving student of the month. “It’s so refreshing to get recognized for my achievements in school because I’ve worked so hard to be in this position. My dream is to go to the University of Washington and become a bio-engineer. I really love numbers and want to use that passion to change the world for the better.”

New Senate committee incorporates tribes into policymaking

By Eastern Arizona Courier

Members of the new state Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Indian Affairs met for the first time in Phoenix on July 15. On the committee is San Carlos Apache Tribal Chairman Terry Rambler, second from left.
Members of the new state Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Indian Affairs met for the first time in Phoenix on July 15. On the committee is San Carlos Apache Tribal Chairman Terry Rambler, second from left.

PHOENIX — A new state Senate committee made its debut July 15.

The Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Indian Affairs is designed as a joint undertaking between the state and the tribes. State Sen. Carlyle Begay, D-Ganado, said he launched the committee as a way to foster crucial relationships and open communication between tribal leaders and state government.

“There are 22 tribal communities in Arizona, and it’s essential that we bridge the gap between the tribes and state government so we can work together on some of Arizona’s prominent issues, such as Indian gaming and water rights,” Begay said. “This committee seeks to improve communications and build a sense of trust between Arizona’s tribal citizens, communities and governments.”

Tribal issues often cut across party lines, so with this in mind, the committee was formed with Democrats, Republicans and tribal leaders as members to ensure balanced views and perspectives.

“I want to thank the state Senate for establishing the Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Indian Affairs and including tribal leaders. Today our discussions centered on Indian education, and I am hopeful that this is a new era of collaboration between the state of Arizona and Indian tribes. This will not only provide education and awareness, but a joint partnership on improving relations between governments,” said San Carlos Apache Tribal Chairman Terry Rambler,

During the first meeting, the committee received reports from the Arizona Department of Education on the status of Native American education, on the activities of the ADE Native American Advisory Council and from the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools.

The committee also heard presentations regarding Native American Joint Technical Education District (JTED) program funding and the Indian School Bus Routes Maintenance Program. Representatives from the Goldwater Institute updated the committee on the status of the Indian Child Welfare Act lawsuit. Finally, the committee heard testimony from the public.

The next Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Indian Affairs will be in August.

President Obama Wants $1 Billion for Indian Education

Associated PressPresident Barack Obama poses with Native America dancers during his visit to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation Friday, June 13, 2014, photo in Cannon Ball, North Dakota.
Associated Press
President Barack Obama poses with Native America dancers during his visit to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation Friday, June 13, 2014, photo in Cannon Ball, North Dakota.


Tanya H. Lee, Indian Country Today


President Barack Obama’s 2016 budget request includes $1 billion to transform American Indian education, a $138 million increase from the current funding level.

The transformation would change the Bureau of Indian Education into “an organization that serves as a capacity builder and service provider to support tribes in educating their youth and deliver a world-class and culturally appropriate education across Indian Country.”

The $138 million increase would include $58.7 million for school repairs and replacement; an initial $34.2 million to deliver broadband access to all BIE schools; an additional $20 million for operations and maintenance at Indian school facilities; $75 million (an increase of $12.9 million) to fully fund tribal costs for running their own education programs; an additional $10 million “to incentivize creative solutions to school transformation”; and $2.6 million to improve school administration.

The increased American Indian/Alaska Native education funding request is part of the launch of the president’s Generation Indigenou sinitiative intended to reduce barriers to success for Native American youth. The Gen I initiative also includes a small increase for scholarships and adult education, $3 million to support 60 new tribal youth projects in natural resources, a $15 million increase for the Tiwahe Initiative and $4 million to establish a One-Stop Tribal Support Center. Funding for Native Youth Community Projects would increase by a whopping $50 million (up from $3 million) to improve college and career readiness among Native youth.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell; Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn, Chickasaw; Education Secretary Arne Duncan; and Jodi Gillette, special assistant to the president for Native American affairs, held a teleconference on January 29 to begin to create public support for the education initiatives.

Jewell noted that the president’s recommendations would provide the highest level of funding for AI/AN education since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Duncan said, “The lack of opportunity [for Native American youth] is simply unacceptable… At every level, early childhood, K to 12, higher education, we have a lot of hard work ahead of us… Tribes need to play a meaningful leadership role in the education of their students. We know that tribes are best able to know their own students’ needs and best able to build upon their strengths.”

Asked what chance the AI/AN education proposals had to make it through the Congressional appropriations process, Jewell said, “There is strong bipartisan support for addressing the issues that we talked about and identified here today… There is no question that we are not serving Indian children well and I think there is a sense of appreciation that we are tackling these things head-on and we’re not just kicking the can down the road as has been done by both Democratic and Republican administrations for many years. I am quite optimistic that we will get support for this budget.”

U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, Chickasaw, a Republican representing Oklahoma’s 4th District, said in a statement: “Throughout President Obama’s tenure, Native American issues have proven to be a source of bipartisan cooperation, particularly on the House Appropriations Committee… In the days ahead, as my colleagues in the House and Senate seek to find common ground with the Administration, I remain hopeful that we can make significant progress in Indian country during this session of Congress.” Cole serves as chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies and on the House Budget Committee.

Congresswoman Betty McCollum, D-Minnesota, said in a statement: “The Bureau of Indian Education has long been underfunded and meeting our trust and treaty responsibility for educating Native American children will not happen overnight… President Obama and Secretary Jewell have taken a significant action to set us on a path towards ensuring that all children in Indian Country have access to a safe place to learn.” McCollum is the ranking Democratic member on the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee and the Democratic co-chair of the Native American Caucus.

In response to a question from ICTMN about whether other AI/AN programs would be cut in order to fund the education initiative, Washburn responded, “We have not made significant compromises” in developing the budget.

Jewell said the president’s commitment to the American Indian community, based in part on his June visit to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota and December’s White House Tribal Nations Conference, was instrumental in developing the FY16 budget requests for AI/AN education. She noted that the administration would launch a Cabinet Native Youth Listening Tour next week to hear directly from AI/AN kids.



Indian Education Makes Enormous Strides at NIEA Convention

Julia MitchellA presenter at the NIEA Convention held this year in Anchorage, Alaska.

Julia Mitchell
A presenter at the NIEA Convention held this year in Anchorage, Alaska.


Suzette Brewer, Indian Country Today


Consultation, accountability and transparency were the call-to-arms at the National Indian Education Convention held earlier this month in Anchorage, Alaska. This year’s conference, entitled “Building Education Through the Generations,” saw unprecedented attention from the federal government, including visits from Senator Jon Tester, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs; the director of the Bureau of Indian Education, Dr. Charles “Monty” Russell; and Bill Mendoza, Director of the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Affairs.

Among the highlights of the convention was a speech by Senator Jon Tester of Montana in which he announced the introduction of new, comprehensive Indian education legislation that will improve Native education from early childhood education through post secondary, including bolstering language immersion programs, resources for teacher recruitment and retention in Native school districts, as well as streamlined and simplified funding applications, among other initiatives.

“Senator Tester has been listening and loudly heard the call of our educators,” said NIEA Executive Director Ahniwake Rose (Cherokee/Muscogee). “He came all the way to Anchorage to announce this new legislation, which is the first time a sitting chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs has acknowledged our membership in recent memory. This legislation is extraordinary for its wide-ranging scope of improvements to our schools.”


Senator Jon Tester speaks at the NIEA Convention in Alaska. (Julia Mitchell)
Senator Jon Tester speaks at the NIEA Convention in Alaska. (Julia Mitchell)

Also unique at this year’s conference were the “townhalls” hosted by the Bureau of Indian Education head Dr. Charles “Monty” Roessel (Navajo), who was appointed to the post in December 2013 by Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. To underscore the importance of education to the BIA, Washburn’s chief of staff was also in attendance.

The townhalls served as a dialogue between Dr. Roessel, the BIA, and the NIEA membership that provided an opportunity for educators to voice their concerns and frustrations, as well as their successes and hopes for their schools and students for the coming years. Some of their requests included increased transparency and accountability in reforming Indian education; inclusion in planning and decision-making for their school districts; and additional, on-going consultations with the tribes in regards to the performance of the BIE schools.

“The tribes are in the best position to determine what’s best for our children,” said Rose. “We know that the BIE schools are underperforming and we are looking to strengthen our partnership with the agency to improve outcomes for all Indian students.”

Mendoza attended the convention to announce a new Native youth initiative which includes comprehensive funding for “wrap-around” services for tribal students.

“The fact that the DOE, the BIE and Tester are reaching out to us is huge, and it was great to have them at NIEA to engage at a national level,” said Rose. “We’re at a moment for Indian education. For the first time in 40 years, we have a U.S. President that has publicly addressed and supported Indian education. We have government agencies that are focusing in a way that has never happened before. So we want to build on this momentum to create a true turning point for our kids.”


Navajo Nation's Department of Dine Education Booth at the NIEA Convention in Anchorage. (Julia Mitchell)
Navajo Nation’s Department of Dine Education Booth at the NIEA Convention in Anchorage. (Julia Mitchell)

Rose also said that among the most important priorities of the tribes is the ability to operate all title funds as they see fit on their lands. As the demand for education continues to increase, she added that Indian education should also encompass a worldview, which recognizes a global economy and the importance of a skilled and educated workforce in Native communities.

“Look at the natural resources located on our lands,” said Rose. “There is an enormous potential for educating our youth to harness the potential income from those lands in a way that the tribes can manage themselves, without having to rely on outsiders or be taken advantage of. We can’t afford to fail again.”

During his speech to the general assembly of this year’s convention, Senator Tester explicitly noted that community involvement with the inclusion of administrators, teachers and parents in collaboration with the government agencies are critical to improved outcomes in Indian education.

“I have no doubt that there is great promise in Indian education—and we have a responsibility to future generations of Indian Country to make the most of that promise. Not with cookie-cutter curriculums or endless bureaucratic red tape, but with community-driven solutions that teach our children not only to think, but think critically,” Tester told the audience. “No two tribes are identical, so it only makes sense that tribes need the flexibility to customize resources to fit the needs of their youth. Let’s work together to develop these solutions that improve the lives of Native children and young adults.”



What to know about federally run Indian schools

In this photo taken Sept. 25, 2014, students walk between buildings at the Little Singer Community School in Birdsprings, Ariz. on the Navajo Nation. Like other schools in the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Education, remoteness, extreme poverty, bureaucracy and a lack of construction dollars have enhanced the challenges at Little Singer. The Obama administration is pushing ahead with a plan to improve the schools that gives tribes more control. But the endeavor is complicated.
In this photo taken Sept. 25, 2014, students walk between buildings at the Little Singer Community School in Birdsprings, Ariz. on the Navajo Nation. Like other schools in the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Education, remoteness, extreme poverty, bureaucracy and a lack of construction dollars have enhanced the challenges at Little Singer. The Obama administration is pushing ahead with a plan to improve the schools that gives tribes more control. But the endeavor is complicated.

By Kimberly Hefling, AP Education Writer

WINSLOW, Ariz. (AP) — The federal government finances 183 schools and dormitories for Native American children on or near reservations in 23 states. The schools are some of the nation’s lowest performing.

An effort is underway to improve them.

Five things to know about the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Education schools:



The Obama administration wants to turn day-to-day operations of more of the schools over to tribes, bring in more board-certified teachers, upgrade Internet access and make it easier to hire teachers and buy textbooks. The plan also seeks to provide more support to schools to advance American Indian languages and culture.

But many the schools are in poor physical condition. An estimated $1.3 billion is needed to replace or refurbish rundown facilities, and not much money is coming from Washington. There also is much mistrust of the federal government, given the history of forced assimilation.



The system of government boarding schools to educate Native American students was established in the 19th century as part of an assimilation policy to “eradicate Native cultures and languages through Western education,” according to a government study group.

One of the first to be run directly by Washington was the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, which opened in 1879. It was founded by Richard Henry Pratt, an Army officer who said, “Kill the Indian in him, and save the man,” according to Jon Reyhner, an education professor at Northern Arizona University.

Many commissions have called for improvements to Indian schools. One, in the 1920s, said the students should be treated as “human beings.”

In 1966, what was then called the Rough Rock Demonstration School opened in Chinle, Arizona, a prototype of the schools that are today owned by the federal government but run by tribes.



While about 7 percent of Indian students attend a bureau school today, the great majority are at traditional public schools.

Only a few bureau schools fully immerse students in a Native American language or culture. Others offer them in lesser degrees. But this type of instruction is a draw for parents.

About 6,900 students live in dorms operated by the bureau.



Little Singer Community School outside Winslow, Arizona, was the vision in the 1970s of a medicine man who longed for area children to attend a local school. Today, it serves 81 students and school leaders emphasize a nurturing environment. But the rundown classroom buildings have problems with asbestos, radon, mice, mold and flimsy outside door locks. The school has been on a government priority list since at least 2004 for new construction.



Indian students overall score higher overall on assessments than those who attend bureau schools.

Native American students overall have high school graduation rates that are lower than the student population as a whole, 68 percent compared with 81 percent, according to government figures from 2011-2012. They also lag peers on a national assessment known as the “nation’s report card” and have lower rates of college completion.

In a 2011 survey conducted as part of the national assessment, 56 percent of Native American and Alaska Native students reported knowing some or a lot about their tribe or group’s history. The rest reported knowing little or nothing.

Kelso’s successful Indian Education programs mix classroom, culture

By Lauren Kronebusch, The Daily News

Kelso’s Indian Education Program shares the qualities of Hermia, a pint-sized but spirited character featured in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”: “Though she be but little, she is fierce.”

The core of the program is a small classroom on the first level of Wallace Elementary School. It protects a wealth of history. A glass display case full of traditional Native American objects greets visitors at the front entrance. Several bookshelves laden with children’s and educational books about Native American culture sit against a wall adorned with dream catchers. In the back of the classroom a map of the United States is stabbed with push pins locating which tribes students in the program have roots.

Shelley Hamrick, the program’s coordinator since 1997, sees the classroom as the source of the program’s strength and uniqueness. When the district formed its diversity committee around 1995, it had a broad mission that the room came to physically exemplify.

“(The district wanted) to make kids feel connected and included,” she said. “And then they saw everything that we have.”

Hamrick smiles as she sweeps her hand through the air to point to dozens of artifacts in the room, donated over time by community families. The district decided to give the program its permanent home at Wallace in 1997, when it moved from a portable classroom to a room inside the school.

Native American cultural education is having a big year in Kelso and the state. Kelso’s annual Pow Wow will celebrate its 30th anniversary in May. In March, Washington’s House of Representatives formalized the Friday after Thanksgiving as Native American Heritage Day.

Kelso created its program in the 1970s in response to the federal Indian Education Act, adopted in 1972 to restore and preserve cultural traditions weakened when many Native American children were sent to boarding schools in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

“It was kind of like (the government, schools and tribes) wanted to bring that (knowledge) back to the people,” Hamrick said of Kelso’s participation in the Indian Education Act.

Few other districts in their area have built up their Indian Education programs as thoroughly as has Kelso. When Hamrick began as a tutor in 1989, the program had about 240 students. The program has 400 students this year. Hamrick said the district now includes students with ancestral links to 63 tribes. The program’s success, Hamrick said, has been a result of a close working relationship between her and district administrators that Hamrick said fosters a sense of inclusion for the district’s Native students.

Hamrick said the program’s educational and cultural missions reinforce each other.

“Many students who were really, really struggling in school, they’d get some extra help in school, and they’d start valuing their culture, because they (didn’t) have that connection to the reservation anymore or maybe they didn’t at all,” she said.

Wallace Elementary students beat on a rawhide drum with LaMere. Photo/ Roger Werth / The Daily News
Wallace Elementary students beat on a rawhide drum with LaMere. Photo/ Roger Werth / The Daily News

Lory Evans brings her two grandchildren to Tuesday’s culture class. She said it has helped her and her children feel more connected to their Native American heritage.

“I thought they should have some of the culture,” Evans said. “I never got any (cultural education) when I grew up so I wanted them to have some.”

Her granddaughter Kaydince Evans talked excitedly of the free “Ratatouille” cooking book she got from the program. Her grandson Quincy Evans picked “Buffalo Before Breakfast,” a Magic Tree House series novel. He said it only took him a few days to read. Both books come from First Book Grants, which donated more than 2,200 books in the last five years.

Marie Dancing Star LaMere, a Native drummer, singer, dancer and educator, teaches the program’s culture class.

She said she thinks Native Americans learn differently. Like herself, she said her students are more oral learners. LaMere said that’s why she tries to teach her culture class through demonstration and activity.

“I think that’s our culture,” she said. “Just like our stories — they’re passed down from generation to generation (through speech).”

Program tutor and parent Elizabeth Jones said the culture class has helped keep her and her children connected to her tribe, the Lummi of western Washington.

“It’s so hands-on, they don’t even realize they’re (learning),” Jones said. “They don’t understand that while they’re having fun, they’re getting the education part of it, too.”

LaMere said her culture class is most effective for a simple reason: it’s fun.

“Kids love movement,” she said.

LaMere’s class involves plenty of it. The room boomed Tuesday night with the guttural voice of a raw hide drum, beaten as LaMere sang a coastal Native American song to the class. Students circled the display case, rowing along to her song with drum sticks.

LaMere said the program reaches students at a level beyond the cultural and educational.

“I think it touches on a spiritual level as well,” she said.

Plan to Reshape Indian Education Stirs Opposition


In this Oct. 24, 2013, photo a school bus heads up Tobacco Road on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.—Swikar Patel/Education Week
In this Oct. 24, 2013, photo a school bus heads up Tobacco Road on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
—Swikar Patel/Education Week

By Lesli A. Maxwell Education Week

June 12, 2014

An effort by the Obama administration to overhaul the troubled federal agency that is responsible for the education of tens of thousands of American Indian children is getting major pushback from some tribal leaders and educators, who see the plan as an infringement on their sovereignty and a one-size-fits-all approach that will fail to improve student achievement in Indian Country.

As Barack Obama makes his first visit to Indian Country as president this week, the federal Bureau of Indian Education—which directly operates 57 schools for Native Americans and oversees 126 others run by tribes under contract with the agency—is moving ahead with plans to remake itself into an entity akin to a state department of education that would focus on improving services for tribally operated schools.

A revamped BIE, as envisioned in the proposal, would eventually give up direct operations of schools and push for a menu of education reforms that is strikingly similar to some championed in initiatives such as Race to the Top, including competitive-grant funding to entice tribal schools to adopt teacher-evaluation systems that are linked to student performance.

The proposed reorganization of the BIE comes after years of scathing reports from watchdog groups, including the U.S. Government Accountability Office, and chronic complaints from tribal educators about the agency’s financial and academic mismanagement and failure to advocate more effectively for the needs of schools that serve Native American students. It also comes a year after U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell called the federally funded Indian education system “an embarrassment.” The BIE is overseen by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which is housed within the U.S. Interior Department.

Pushback From Tribes

The proposal, released in April, was drafted by a seven-person “study group” appointed jointly by Ms. Jewell and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Five of the panel’s members currently serve in the Obama administration.

Some of the nation’s largest tribes, however, are staunchly opposed to the proposal, including the 16 tribes that make up the Great Plains Tribal Chairmans Association, which represents tribal leaders in South Dakota, North Dakota, and Nebraska.

“It’s time for us to decide what our children will learn and how they will learn it because [BIE] has been a failure so far,” Bryan V. Brewer, the chairman of the 40,000-member Oglala Sioux tribe in Pine Ridge, S.D., said last month in a congressional hearing on the BIE.

In the same hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Charles M. Roessel, the director of the BIE and a member of the panel that drafted the plan, said the agency’s reorganization “would allow the BIE to achieve improved results in the form of higher student scores, improved school operations, and increased tribal control over schools.” (Despite multiple requests from Education Week, the BIE did not make Mr. Roessel or any other agency official available for an interview.)

Visit to Standing Rock

President Obama will visit the Standing Rock Sioux reservation on June 13 in Cannon Ball, N.D., and expectations are high that he will announce a major education initiative for tribal schools, which are some of the lowest-performing in the nation. In an op-ed article published last week in Indian Country Today, the president signaled two areas in dire need of federal attention in tribal communities: education and economic development.

Fifth grader Manuel Tyon, 10, rides the bus to Red Cloud Indian School on South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation on Oct. 23, 2013.—Swikar Patel/Education Week
Fifth grader Manuel Tyon, 10, rides the bus to Red Cloud Indian School on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation on Oct. 23, 2013.
—Swikar Patel/Education Week

Indeed, the achievement picture for American Indian and Alaska Native children is grim. According to federal data, the four-year graduation rate for American Indian and Alaska Native students in 2011-12 was 67 percent, lagging behind all other major student groups except for English-language learners. BIE students, compared to their Native American peers in regular public schools, also scored lower on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, reading and math tests in 4th grade.

While roughly 90 percent of Native American children attend regular public schools, both on and off reservations, more than 48,000 are enrolled in the BIE system, which includes tribally run schools that are supposed to have autonomy over their operations but rely almost 100 percent on federal funding that flows through the bureau.

Over the years, BIE-operated and -funded schools have faced daunting challenges not unlike those in some of the poorest urban school districts: difficulty recruiting and retaining teachers and school leaders, funding shortfalls, and dilapidated school facilities, to name a few. Mr. Roessel told senators last month that in the current fiscal year, the agency is able to fund just 67 percent of the operational costs needed by the tribally controlled schools it oversees.

Tense History

Tribal educators have complained for years that the agency has not respected tribes’ sovereignty over the schools they run, as spelled out in the Tribally Controlled Schools Act, and has imposed policies that have restricted a major priority for tribes: providing Native language and culture classes.

That history, said one tribal educator, makes the new BIE plan for overhauling itself highly suspect among tribes.

“How we see this plan is simple. The bureau is asking for more money and more staff to continue doing nothing,” said Christopher G. Bordeaux, the executive director of the Oceti Sakowin Education Consortium, a group of tribal schools on the Pine Ridge reservation and other reservations in South Dakota. “For years, we’ve asked the bureau for help, but we never get it. We figure out how to do this stuff on our own. The bureau really has no idea what tribal schools are all about, and they’ve not taken the time to ever listen and learn how to help us, and then they turn around and point to us and say the schools are failing.”

‘Agile Organization’

Under the reorganization plan, the BIE would evolve into an “agile organization” that would focus on supporting school improvement efforts in tribal communities by funding and providing professional development to tribal educators; scaling up recruitment and retention programs to attract talented teachers and school leaders to the often-remote schools; and building and upgrading school facilities, including grossly outdated technology infrastructures in many schools. The plan also calls for developing a single accountability system for BIE schools. Currently, federal law requires BIE schools to adhere to the accountability systems of the 23 states in which they are located, making meaningful comparisons impossible.

Education in Indian Country

On most measures of educational success, Native American students trail every other racial and ethnic subgroup of students. To explore the reasons why, Education Week sent a writer, a photographer, and a videographer to American Indian reservations in South Dakota and California earlier this fall. Their work is featured in a special package of articles, photographs, multimedia, and Commentary.

Full Package: Education in Indian Country: Obstacles and Opportunity

Overview story: Running in Place

Documentary Video: A Long Road Back to the ‘Rez’

The study group’s proposal looks to another set of schools that are also federally run—those operated by the U.S. Department of Defense for the children of active military personnel—as a model for BIE to emulate on how to improve school facilities and student achievement.

The plan also argues that the Tribally Controlled Schools Act “should be made more conducive to reform” so that the BIE can attach conditions to the schools that it funds. For example, the plan calls for requiring the schools that it funds to adopt performance-based evaluation systems that include student achievement results and policies that make it easier to remove underperforming employees. It recommends that BIE launch a pilot of performance-based evaluations this fall in some of the schools it directly operates and expand those into tribally controlled schools in the near future.

To do that, however, the study group said BIE would need funding from Congress that could be used to provide incentives for tribal schools to adopt such reforms. The group recommended that the Interior Department “consider adapting the successful, competitive grants currently being used by the U.S. Department of Education as models” that would help tribes “align tribal educational priorities to President Obama’s education reform agenda to improve student outcomes and ensure all BIE students are college and career ready.”

Looming Court Battle?

Only tribes that operate three or more schools should be eligible for such grants, the study group said.

Any attempts to get around the Tribally Controlled Schools Act would spark major pushback from tribes, said Mr. Bordeaux, who lives on the Pine Ridge reservation and is an elected member of the board of directors for the Washington-based National Indian Education Association.

“Under the law, the BIE does not have this kind of authority over our tribal schools,” he said. “If they continue to do this, the only course we’ll have left is to go to court and file a lawsuit.”

What happens next with the BIE’s proposal is not yet clear. Tribal communities had until June 2 to submit comments on the draft, which will eventually be submitted to Ms. Jewell and Mr. Duncan for their review.

But at last month’s Senate hearing focusing on the BIE’s proposal, Mr. Roessel, the BIE director, assured the panel that the agency wants to improve and is already taking steps to do so.

“We will not build a bigger bureaucracy,” he said. “We will not infringe on sovereignty, and we will not continue to fail.”

While U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, who is the chairman of the Senate committee on Indian Affairs, expressed support for BIE’s improvement efforts, he was also skeptical about the agency’s capacity to follow through. He pointed to Mr. Roessel’s inability to provide answers on how many teacher vacancies are in BIE schools or how many rely on housing provided by tribes.

He said that the Interior Department didn’t provide the committee’s staff with basic information on BIE schools in time for the hearing, despite a request to do so 30 days in advance.

“It almost appears that we’ve got a systemic problem here,” Sen. Tester said. “We don’t have lists on school construction needs, teachers that are not there, very basic stuff.”

Senate Hearing Today Will Examine Higher Education for Indians

ed.govJamienne Studley, U.S. deputy under secretary of education, will testify today before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.
Jamienne Studley, U.S. deputy under secretary of education, will testify today before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

Source: Department of Education, June 11, 2014

Jamienne Studley, U.S. deputy under secretary of education, will testify today before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs as part of an oversight hearing entitled, “Indian Education Series: Examining Higher Education for American Indian Students.”

Studley will discuss the U.S. Education Department’s efforts to expand educational opportunities and improve educational outcomes for Native American students through college access, affordability and completion. The administration remains committed to working with tribes and supporting tribal colleges and universities to ensure that all American Indian and Alaskan Native students have high-quality educational experiences that prepare them for careers and productive lives.

The administration views college completion as an economic necessity and a moral imperative. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, while the average public high school graduation rate for all students has increased six points, from approximately 75 percent in 2007-08 to 81 percent in 2011-12, the high school graduation rate for American Indian/Alaskan Native students over the same period rose by only four points, from 64 to 68 percent.

To find out more about the Department’s efforts to make college more accessible, affordable and high-quality, click here.

In addition, President Barack Obama’s Opportunity for All: My Brother’s Keeper Blueprint for Action report was released recently, outlining a set of initial recommendations and a blueprint for action by government, business, non-profit, philanthropic, faith and community partners to expand opportunities for boys and young men of color—including American Indians and Alaskan Natives—to help them stay on track and reach their potential.