California Teens Education Field Trip

White House Tribal Nations Conference: Focus on Youth

Tanya H. Lee

The White House released an update on President Obama’s overarching initiative to improve conditions for youth in Indian country.  “Generation Indigenous: Increasing Support and Opportunity for Native Youth 2015 Update Report” was unveiled at the 7th annual White House Tribal Nations Conference November 5.

Since the initiative was launched in December 2014, the administration has focused primarily on two areas: implementing the Bureau of Indian Education’s Blueprint for Reform and moving forward with the Department of Education’s Native Youth Community Projects, a college and career readiness partnership with tribal communities.

An informing principle of the Blueprint for Reform is returning control of the education of AIAN children to their tribes while continuing federal funding support. The agency has stepped up its plans to transfer schools from BIE to tribal authority and to serve as a resource for tribally-run schools.

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In further support of this effort, the Department of Education announced at the conference $2.5 million in grants to help tribes improve their academic programs. The grants, funded through the Department of Education’s State-Tribal Education Partnership (STEP) and the BIE’s Tribal Education Department, were awarded to the Chickasaw Nation; Nez Perce Tribe; Coeur D’Alene Tribe; Muscogee (Creek) Nation; Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes; Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians; Leech Lake Band, Minnesota Chippewa Tribe; and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

BIE Director Charles “Monty” Roessel said in a statement, “These competitive grants will help strengthen tribal education departments as they set high academic standards and incorporate tribal culture, language and history into their curriculum. This program reflects our commitment to tribal self-determination. It expands tribes’ roles in developing educational goals for their communities and ensuring they have the resources to operate these systems designed for their students.”

BIE has also been striving to improve teacher quality by partnering with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards to train and certify highly-qualified teachers. So far, nearly 275 teachers have registered to take the National Board Certification exam, according to the report, with the goal of having 1,000 participating teachers by 2017. In addition, a partnership with The New Teacher Project will train teachers at 30 BIE-funded schools with the goal of increasing tribes’ capacity to operate their own schools.

Verizon and Microsoft have partnered with DOI to provide high-speed data services and equipment to students living in BIE-funded dorms.

The Native Youth Community Projects initiative has awarded grants for programs ranging from kindergarten readiness to summer college visits for high school students to STEM skill-building programs.

RELATED: Feds Award $5.3 Million for College, Career Readiness Projects

In October, the Department of Education released its final report on the nine-stop School Environment Listening Tour conducted by the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education and the department’s Office for Civil Rights. The report focuses on the most critical issues identified by the more than 1,000 students, parents, teachers and community leaders who participated in the listening sessions – bullying, school discipline, and the use of racist imagery such as mascots and logos—and offers detailed recommendations for action from the participants.

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The White House has made other efforts to meet directly with Native youth to hear their concerns and aspirations. During the first-ever White House Tribal Youth Gathering, held in July, First Lady Michelle Obama welcomed more than 1,000 Native youth from 230 tribes to meet with members of the Cabinet and senior White House officials. In addition, the Cabinet Native Youth Listening Tour has sent top administration officials into tribal communities to talk to and with young people.

RELATED: White House Youth Gathering: Native Youth Have First Lady and President Behind Them

In addition, 24 Native youth were invited to attend today’s White House Tribal Nations Conference.

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