ASU Graduation Pueblo Doctorate
Charlie Leight/ASU News
Members of ASU’s first Pueblo Indian doctoral cohort take a group picture during the Graduate Commencement on Monday, May 11, 2015, at Wells Fargo Arena.

The Year in Review: 15 Big Stories Highlighting Native Education


There was a lot to talk about regarding Native education in 2015. Students fought for the right to wear eagle feathers at graduation ceremonies, Cobell scholarships became available and the Bureau of Indian Education started looking at the state of reservation schools. ICTMN spotlighted a number of these stories this year:

WINNING EAGLE FEATHER FIGHT A 20-year-old policy at Grand Forks Public Schools was changed, allowing Native American students to wear eagle feathers on their graduation tassels.

A Native American group in North Dakota has won the fight for students to wear eagle feathers to graduation ceremonies. (

UW FINISHES LONGHOUSE The second longhouse in Seattle since the original ones were destroyed in the late 1800s was erected. Those involved in its construction hope it will encourage more Native Americans to pursue higher education.

Elaine Grinnell, Jamestown S’Klallam, blesses the University of Washington longhouse under construction during a blessing ceremony, Aug. 6, 2014. The longhouse will open on March 12 and is the second longhouse built in Seattle since the last longhouses were destroyed during the settlement era. (Emil Pitre/University of Washington)

NATIVES LEARN IN CRUMBLING BUILDINGS Thousands of American Indian children are attending school in buildings that are an immediate threat to their health and safety. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said, “BIE schools are historically some of the lowest-performing schools in the nation. The infrastructure is crumbling and they have a severe lack of resources.”

COBELL SCHOLARSHIPS HAPPENING The U.S. Interior Department transferred $17 million to the Scholarship Fund for American Indian/Alaska Native students authorized by the Cobell settlement. A total of $60 million can be put into the fund from Buy-Back Program sales. Applications are available now.

MONTANA STEPS UP FOR NATIVE STUDENTS The state’s Office of Public Instruction initiated efforts in its K-12 classrooms specifically relevant to tribes—including the Indian Education for All program and the Schools of Promise initiative and the hiring of two full-time specialists whose job is to help teachers working on closing the achievement gap. The Montana State Legislature also supports tribal colleges by providing funding for non-tribal students attending those schools.

Elementary students at the Graduation Matters Wolf Point kickoff. (Courtesy Montana Office of Public Instruction)

NATIVE HISTORY A MUST IN WASHINGTON SCHOOLS There are 29 federally recognized indigenous nations in Washington State, and as of May 8, it became mandatory for schools in the state to educate students about the history and governance of those nations.

NO EAGLE FEATHERS ALLOWED Waverly Wilson was told by her principal at Lakes High School in Lakewood, Washington that she could not wear an eagle feather on her tassel at graduation. Hayden Layne Griffith, who graduated from Caney Valley School District, fought a similar battle. Christian Titman was able to wear his during his graduation from Clovis Unified School District after an agreement was reached.

Waverly “Wave” Wilson is seen here holding an eagle feather that was presented to her by her Uncle Mike who adopted her into the Blackfoot Tribe (left). And on the right, she is seen in her Fancy Dance regale in Lakewood, Washington. (Courtesy Photos)

ASU GRADUATES 10 PHDS This year’s graduating class at ASU may have included the largest group of Native American doctoral graduates to ever collect degrees at one time. The 10 graduates are all Pueblo Indians who were a part of the first joint endeavor between ASU’s School of Social Transformation and Santa Fe Indian School’s Leadership Institute.

$50 MILLION GOES TO TCUS The grants will help higher education institutions strengthen their academic quality, management, and overall fiscal stability.

AP U.S. HISTORY LIES ABOUT NATIVES American exceptionalism is back! The College Board, having deleted the term in its 2014 revision of the AP U.S. History Curriculum Framework, reinstated it in 2015.

NO MOHAWKS ALLOWED A Native second grader at the Washington County School District in Utah was sent home because his traditional Mohawk hairstyle was “too distracting” and violated the dress code.

SUSAN TAFFE REED REASSIGNED After questions about her Native heritage arose, Reed was removed as the director of the Native American Program at Dartmouth.

After being named director of Dartmouth's Native American Program and coming under fire for running a 'fake tribe,' Susan Taffe Reed has been reassigned. (Dartmouth College/Eli Burakian)

DENYING NATIVE GENOCIDE A Cal State Sacramento University professor who allegedly told his U.S. History class he did not like the term “genocide” in relation to Native Americans, told a Native student who disagreed with him that she was disenrolled from his course.

Chiitaanibah Johnson, (Navajo/Maidu) a 19-year-old sophomore student at Cal State Sacramento University says when she told her U.S. History professor that she disagreed with his assessment that Native Americans did not face genocide—the professor said she was hijacking his class, was accusing him of bigotry and racism, and she was expelled from the class. (Courtesy Chiitaanibah Johnson)

FIGHTING RACISM AT YALE Native students at Yale joined more than 1,000 people to make their voices heard in an event on November 9 where students of color and their allies showed unity in the face of racial problems on campus.

Yale University students and supporters participate in a march across campus to demonstrate against what they see as racial insensitivity at the Ivy League school in New Haven, Connecticut on November 9, 2015. (Ryan Flynn/AP)

CONGRESS PASSES EDUCATION DO-OVER Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act, the first major federal overhaul of elementary and secondary education in 15 years. The president signed the act on December 10, quashing most provisions of No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

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