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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


November 3, 2001 - Issue 48


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 Indian Education Summit Today


 by Jody Rave Lee-Lee Newspapers-October 28, 2001


photo by David Grubbs-Billings Gazette Staff

Billings, Montana - The National Indian Education Association conference begins in Billings today with thousands of Native American students, educators, parents and tribal leaders meeting to help dictate the future of Indian education.

Their common goal: Unity.
"There’s strength in numbers," said Carole Anne Heart, Lakota and NIEA president, as hundreds registered Saturday at the Holiday Inn Grand Montana. "When you put your heads together, there's an energy that 3,000 people bring together. That energy is forceful. It’s demanding. It's an evolving process."

This year’s conference theme, "Connecting to the Spirit of Traditional Wisdom," will find participants discussing culture and language preservation, empowering youth, standardized testing, reauthorization of education laws and increasing unity among all educators.

Language, culture
"The focus here is the education of our Indian people," said Sherry Allison, Navajo and past president of NIEA. "Part of our identity as Indian people is language and culture. As we acculturate more into the mainstream, there’s always this threat of losing our languages and culture."

Said Sandra Fox, Lakota and 1998 Indian Educator of the Year: "I've been in Indian education for 30-some years. I thought the exciting part was going to be incorporating language and culture into the curriculum. Here we are entering the new millennium and it's still not being done the way I thought it would be done."

Fox has written a five-book series, "Creating Sacred Places for Our Children" on how to integrate language and culture into classroom instruction. The National Indian School Board Association is working on a "sacred places project, an Indian model of school reform," Fox said.

One of the people at the front of indigenous education has been Philip Beaumont Sr., now an elder of the Crow tribe who lives in Pryor. He testified before Congress in the 1960s to help bring about the Indian Education Act, which help set the framework for teaching Native students.

Today, at age 80, he’s still an advocate for education.

As a sergeant in the Air Force between 1942-45, he saw the difference an education could have on one's life. "We (Native military men) had a lot of disadvantages because of our race and a lack of education," he said. Beaumont left the service and went on to complete bachelor's and master's degrees. And in December, he expects to finish his doctorate at Montana State University.

"I'll keep trying to inspire young people and tell them about the value of an education," he said. What's the value of an education for youth? "Success in life," he said.

Lloyd Elm, principal of the American Indian Magnet School in St. Paul, Minn., worries about how national standardized testing affects Native American students’ ability to pursue degrees in higher education.

"National standardized tests will show whether education is working for Native Americans," he said. "We're not going to fare well. Native Americans and other children of color will cluster to the left side of the curve. To get into college, you have to do well on those. We don't do well because of learning differences."

Elm said the language used in the tests draws on upper middle class language and values. He recalled a recent test for his third-grade students. They missed "language" questions. One of the questions involved the word "yacht."

"One of them said, 'It's a big animal with big horns,'" Elm said. "Yacht. Is that a run-of-the-mill word they know at Fort Berthold (a North Dakota reservation)?" he asked. "I don’t think so."

Elm hopes to see standardized testing developed for Native American students.

Like Elm, hundreds of educators hope to improve youth's future through education. It's one of the reasons Allison has traveled to Billings. She is concerned about some of the education laws that will be up for reauthorization in 2002.

Two of them include the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. "We need to be certain we’re ready to communicate," said Allison, who is also the director of special education for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. "We need to be certain we have a voice and our needs are known.”"

Making Native American needs known isn't an easy task and is one that requires Native people and organizations to pull their resources together, said Gil Vigil, All Indian Pueblo Council secretary-treasurer and chairman for next year's NIEA conference in Albuquerque.

Vigil now sees fragmentation among schools, families, communities and institutions. "We are failing our kids," he said.

He sees the NIEA conference as a tool for unity. "We need to be an organization that can bring all kinds of people together. We need to foster relationships in all areas of education."

National Indian Education Association

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