Denise Juneau speaking at a rally in 2011

Flexing Our Muscles at the Polls: Natives Voting Native in 2012

Renee Holt
2/7/12

The year 2012 is a big one for the country. Not only will we be voting to re-elect a President, we will also be voting on key political positions throughout the country that affect and influence a range of Indian issues, including education, health, natural resources, and economic development. For example, Denise Juneau, (Three Affiliated Tribes/Blackfeet) who is the current State Superintendent of Public Instruction for Montana, has announced her re-election campaign.

Although I am not a resident of Montana, sharing our support for a Native woman who has been a mover and a shaker in Indian education is important. And we need to get out the vote!

A little background: Montana has led the way in Indian education, and, thanks to years of advocacy and support from people at the grassroots level—in other words, Indian country—successfully implemented the first Indian Education for All curriculum. With eight tribes throughout the state, Montana's Native population has influenced the swing vote significantly.

Today, the Montana Office of Public Instruction to the best of my knowledge has been working with tribes because of key political figures support and through Native involvement and advocacy for classroom instruction. Montana’s initiatives have influenced other states with large Native populations; Washington, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Oklahoma are among those states that have challenged their education offices to support the significant populations of Native children in public schools.

Each year at the National Indian Education Association convention, the staff from Montana OPI Indian Education for All presents research and data it has gathered. These findings have become a resource for teachers and administrations throughout Indian country.

The Indian Education for All office consistently advances causes such as Native language revitalization, mandatory culturally-responsive curriculum in the classroom, and partnership and capacity building with tribes. Most importantly, the office addresses the Native American Achievement Gap data.

Montana was successful at implementation of culturally responsive curriculum due to key political support. Denny Hurtado (Skokomish), who is the Washington State Director of Indian Education, observes that "it can take years to implement curriculum... it has taken us over 20 years for the Washington State Office of Public Instruction to approve the Tribal Sovereignty curriculum." Hurtado, who is preparing to retire after over 30 years of Indian education advocacy, also speaks of the importance of keeping people in key political offices who are supportive of Indian education.

Both Hurtado and Juneau attest that working with key state representatives who advocate on behalf of Native children is paramount. This is shared knowledge from two individuals who are on the front lines: We need to help support our people—and those who support us. Your vote affects Native children throughout Indian country, and it's important to spread the message that we, as Native people, have the power to influence the vote!

Renée Holt is Dine and enrolled with the Nez Perce tribe of Idaho. Renee is currently the Graduate Assistant Coordinator for the Washington State University Plateau Center for American Indian Studies and the Clearinghouse on Native Teaching & Learning. As a third year PhD student in the College of Education, Cultural Studies and Social Thought program, she also presently serves as the Secretary for the Board of Directors for National Indian Education Association, the oldest and largest Indian education organization and involved with the American Indian Studies Association.

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