President Obama Follows Visit With Strong Action Plan for Indian Country
In the wake of Friday’s visit by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, the White House released an action plan to help strengthen and sustain at least two of Obama’s biggest initiatives in Indian country: Education and Economic Development.
Acknowledging the “crisis” in Indian education, including low educational attainment rates of Native high school students and the even lower number of college graduates in Indian country, the departments of Interior and Indian Education released a “Blueprint for Reform,” a comprehensive plan “to redesign the BIE to achieve one overarching goal: for tribes to deliver a world-class education to all students attending BIE schools,” according the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
On Friday, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell signed a secretarial order to start the transformation of the Bureau of Indian Education into a “School Improvement Organization,” authorizing the shift of the BIE into a “resource provider” to tribally controlled schools. In doing so, administration officials say that the department will provide customized technical assistance by developing the schools’ educational leadership skills and delivering resources informed by best practices in student support, instruction, financial management, organizational management, teacher training, recruitment, and retention.
“We are very encouraged by the President’s remarks and his commitment to improving education for Native American youth,” said Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II, whose tribe hosted the President and First Lady at Friday’s Flag Day Wacipi Celebration. “We are pleased that the President has demonstrated his dedication to strengthening the Bureau of Indian Education, through additional funding and policy improvements, which we remain hopeful will include the opportunity for tribes to pursue charter schools while utilizing BIE assistance. The tribe looks forward to working with the Administration on this important issue.”
The plan was developed by a “study group” of more than 400 stakeholders in Indian education after a series of tribal consultations around the country earlier this year, which included Lone Man Day School in Oglala, South Dakota; Riverside Indian School in Anadarko, Oklahoma; Muckleshoot School in Auburn, Washington; and Gila River Head Start Building in Sacaton, Arizona.
Additionally, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held an oversight hearing on May 21 in which Melvin Monette, President of the National Indian Education Association and a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, testified that the current crisis in Indian education was due in part to the federal government’s “inability” to uphold its trust responsibilities and obligations in regards to Native education.
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