Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Currents. Discussion »
RAPID CITY, SOUTH DAKOTA - Thirteen elected American Indian tribal leaders participated in the first education roundtable in Rapid City on Friday. They were there to make participate in a dialogue about improving educational opportunities for American Indian students hosted by the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education panel.
Rapid City Roundtable
President Obama created the White House Initiative last month to improve outcomes for American Indian and Alaska Native students.
Participants included Tex Hall, Chairman, Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation; Jefferson Keel, Lieutenant Governor, Chickasaw Nation, and President, National Congress of American Indians; William Mendoza, Director, White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education; Keith Moore, Director, Bureau of Indian Education, US Department of the Interior; Joyce Silverthorne, Director, Office of Indian Education, US Department of Education and Jo Ann Kauffman, member, Nez Perce.
“We have a chance to get something done in the next 120 days for Indian education,”
said Tex Hall, another member of the education task force and chairman of Mandan, Hidasta and Arikara Nation.
"There can be a paradigm shift. We need to put some meat on the Memorandum of Understanding that the President is willing to advance."
After introductory remarks were made by members of the Initiative, elected tribal representatives were given the opportunity to make recommendations to the group. Elected tribal officials were candid about the need for more funds, better facilities and the importance of teaching Indian students their languages and culture.
"Children are the most important thing to us with our Lakota tribe. It is important that education is at the top,"
said Kevin Yellow Steele, tribal council member of the Oglala Sioux and educational director of the tribe.
"We have to be here to hold your feet to the fire so that the funds to educate our youth will be here for us. Reservation life is hard. We have children who are walking the streets during the day when they should be in school."
“Why aren't they graduating?
Why aren't they staying in school?”
Asked Sonia Little Hawk - Weston, tribal council member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.
"I am glad we are here to discuss education. We need to stand together as one people to let the people in DC know we care about our children," she continued.
“Language and culture is vital in classrooms. It is not being passed down to ensure the authenticity. Funding has not been available to either the Tribe or schools for language and culture,”
said Merrie Miller White Bull, tribal council member from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. She also addressed the need to develop a dropout prevention program on her reservation.
In addition to her concerns on language and culture being taught to Indian students, she discussed poor conditions of school facilities that are in need of maintenance on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation. She cited how some classrooms lack adequate heating. To improvise, space heaters are used that are connected to electricity from an extension cord that ran down the hall.
Additional roundtable will be held in Norman, Oklahoma, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Seattle, Washington(Shelton, Washington to coincide with the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians conference).
updated January 23, 2012 2:59 pm est; posted January 21, 2012 6:20 am est
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