NIAGARA FALLS, NY – The U.S. Department of Education (ED) held a Tribal Consultation and Listening Session on Monday, May 13 leading up to the United South and Eastern Tribes, Incorporated (USET) Semi-Annual meeting. The meeting helped provide an overview of American Indian Education in the USET region and included comments from Tribal leadership in attendance, a report from the USET Education Committee, and public comments.
Support for Native language, cultural activities, and Tribal history was the opening theme for educators who are taking the opportunity to speak during the consultation.
“The concept here is that our Tribes need help with teaching the Native languages and cultural activity,” said Seneca Nation of Indians director of education for the Allegany Territory Chanda Grey. “It is shown that students show great signs of improvement when they learn about their culture, history, and know their language and improve their self-esteem.”
Poarch Band of Creek Indians Vice-Chair Stephanie Bryan built on Grey’s comments by saying, “In our schools we allow Spanish and other foreign languages to be taught and count as credit for foreign languages. But, we need to show more effort to support the language that is spoken by our Tribes. Statistic show that when we have cultural activities, teach the language, and our history the dropout rate declines. Speaking of bricks and mortar, new buildings are nice things to have. But, it’s not what the building looks like; it’s what’s in the building.”
Speaking to the session, USET President Brian Patterson left the comments, “I thank you for coming to the ancient homeland of the Seneca Nation of Indians. Sometimes our people are left out of the processes. Even though it’s a small group, yet we speak of an American value. America honored its veterans and low income. So to should it honor the American value of its trust responsibility to Indian Country? Our children are still being left behind.”
Oneida Indian Nation’s Kandice Watson noted some of the struggles USET Tribes have are the effects of having a poor relationship with the state government. “We have a high truancy and dropout rate in Oneida (Indian Nation- New York). I think with us and a few other Tribes, it’s the states’ unwillingness to recognize the sovereignty of our nations. In most areas through the USET region it has been difficult to get anywhere with the states where they reside.”
Poarch Band of Creek Indian’s Megan Young added to Watson’s statement saying, “States don’t realize that American Indians make up only one percent of the United States population. In that perspective we are national treasure. States don’t see any value in bolstering our values and our educational systems. I want to propose an initiative to educate our state and state educators. We have to educate those who are educating our Indian students.”
Also in attendance are Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) Vice Chair Richard Randolph, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian school board member Lori Blankenship, St. Regis Mohawk’s Roderick Cook, and Seneca Indian Nation’s Jeff Brown.
Office of Indian Education Director Joyce Silverthorne gave an overview of how the listening session and consultation was taking place. Director Silverthorne stated the Indian Education budget would not suffer from the federal sequestration for the current year (2013). However, if there are no changes to the current legislation regarding federal sequestration, Silverthorne says there will be a five percent reduction to the Indian Education 2014 budget.
OIE listening and consultation sessions are conducted by Director Silverthorne (Salish) and White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education Associate Director Sedelta oosahwee (Mandan, Arikara, Hidatsa, Cherokee). The next listening session and consultation is expected to be held in August in Northern California.