right to attend a good school should be the birthright of every
child in America. When tribal nations negotiated treaties with
the U.S. government and surrendered portions of their ancestral
lands more than a century-and-a-quarter ago, the United States
government promised to help provide the descendants of all American
Indians with education, health care, housing, and other basic
necessities of life, forever. Sadly, our nation has failed to
live up to that promise.
must be a cornerstone for economic development in American Indian
communities. Yet, Republicans in Congress and the Bush administration
have routinely failed to provide schools in Indian country with
the resources they need to provide American Indian children with
the education they deserve. Funding for teachers, technology and
critical projects is often slow to arrive or insufficient. Schools
that are identified as needing improvement under the No Child Left
Behind law are not provided the assistance they are supposed to
get to help every child succeed in school.
Indian children face many unique challenges as they go to school
in regions that too often lack basic necessities and where jobs
are scarce. Too many Native children must attend schools in crumbling
and unsafe buildings. During my travels in South Dakota, I have
seen schools managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) where
children had to place trashcans beneath the holes in the roofs to
catch the rain. Ive been to BIA schools in which cold winds
whipped through broken windows. I visited a school, which has since
been replaced, in which neither the furnace nor the bathroom plumbing
Cheyenne Eagle Butte School and dormitories on the Cheyenne River
Sioux Reservation in South Dakota were built by the BIA around 1960.
The floor tiles in both the school and the dormitory contain asbestos
- a known cause of lung cancer and emphysema. To date, the BIAs
"remediation" efforts consist of recommending that the
school "keep the boiler room door shut" and keep the floors
waxed so the tiles wont chip and flake.
2000, when he was running for President, then-Governor Bush met
with tribal leaders in New Mexico and promised to invest $1 billion
to fix crumbling BIA schools. Yet, the President proposed a budget
for 2005 that cuts funding for Indian school construction for the
second year in a row. This policy is wrong and has adversely impacted
countless American Indian children.
recent audit by the Interior Departments Inspector General
concerning the BIA school construction program revealed some of
the consequences of under-funding school construction in Indian
country. The audit found that Indian children are being forced to
try to learn, and their teachers are trying to teach, in schools
that put them at "undue risk" of injury because "no
one in the BIA ensures that school buildings are not occupied"
until safety hazards are corrected. This report also found that
30 percent of the school construction and repair projects it reviewed
failed to meet the BIAs own goal of completing design and
construction within three years.
Inspector General made nine recommendations that it said could strengthen
the BIA school construction program and increase the programs
benefits for American Indians. Those nine recommendations were included
in a draft copy of the report the Inspector General gave to BIA
officials for comment.
despite being given an extended deadline, Bureau officials failed
to respond to the draft. When the report was released, it noted
that "all nine recommendations are considered unresolved."
dont know why the BIA failed to even acknowledge those nine
recommendations for improving the Indian school construction program.
But I know that it is unacceptable. No Indian child should have
to attend school in a crumbling building without heat, water or
other basic services. Yet the Bush administrations continued
inaction and unwillingness to fund and support BIA school construction
projects has made a bad situation even worse.
dilapidated school facilities are not the only hurdle educators
in Indian country and American Indian children are asked to overcome.
When President Bush passed the No Child Left Behind Act, advocates
of the law claimed the new law would identify schools that need
improvement, and provide those schools with the support needed to
ensure that every student can succeed.
as the law has been implemented, tribes and tribal educators from
South Dakota, as well as several national organizations - including
the National Indian Education Association - have shared several
major concerns with me regarding the impact of the new law on Indian
schools. Many schools served by the BIA have found that the additional
funding and technical assistance promised in the new law have been
slow to materialize. And while a number of schools have been identified
as needing improvement, educators tell me that guidance regarding
the development and implementation of improvement plans has too
often been unclear or inconsistent.
tell me that helping students learn about their Native culture and
language is critically important for keeping students interested
in school and giving them hope for the future. Yet many of the teachers
at schools controlled by the BIA tell me that some aspects of the
No Child Left Behind law are not culturally suited to Lakota, Dakota,
and Nakota students and teachers. They are concerned that efforts
to adapt curricula so they are culturally relevant will be abandoned,
at great cost to our young people.
my request, Congress recently held hearings to investigate the impact
of No Child Left Behind in Indian country. While these hearings
were a step in the right direction, we must continue our efforts
and ensure that our schools have the resources they need to provide
all American Indian children with the first-class education they
need and deserve.
have learned from Indian friends that in traditional Oceti Sakowin
(Sioux) culture, the wellbeing of children should be societys
top priority. Today, that means ensuring a high-quality education
so that the next generation has every opportunity to succeed. But
when we deny schools the resources they need to comply with the
No Child Left Behind Act, or neglect Native cultures and language,
and when we force our children to attend school in rundown buildings,
we deny them the opportunities they deserve. The federal government
has promised American Indians a quality education and I will continue
to do everything I can to ensure our government honors this obligation.
Daschle, a Democrat, is the senior senator from South Dakota and
serves as the Senate Minority Leader. In addition to his leadership
post, Daschle also serves as a member of the Agriculture, Finance
and Rules committees. In past Congresses, he has served on the Veterans
Affairs, Indian Affairs and Ethics committees. Daschle is a native
of Aberdeen, S.D.