Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Condition. Discussion »
President at Tribal
On December 2, with leaders representing the 565 federally recognized American Indian tribes in town for the White House Tribal Nations Conference, President Barack Obama announced and signed a Presidential Executive Order on "Improving American Indian and Alaska Native Educational Opportunities and Strengthening Tribal Colleges and Universities."
The executive order establishes the White House Initiative on American Indians and Alaska Native Education, which will be co-chaired by the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar.
On Friday, US Department of Education Secretary Duncan named William Mendoza, an Oglala and Sicangu Lakota, director of the White House Initiative on American Indians and Alaska Native Education. Previous to this appointment, Mendoza has been working as a director and senior advisor to the Secretary on American Indian and Alaska Native education policies since the beginning of the year.
The six and half page executive orde is full of challenges, but poses opportunities to improve education of our American Indian and Alaska Native youth.
The Education Initiative is charged with a mission "to help expand educational opportunities and improve educational outcomes for American Indians and Alaska Natives including opportunities to learn their Native languages, cultures and histories."
The executive order went on to say that this is needed because American Indians and Alaska Native students are dropping out at alarming rates. The executive order further states: "many Native languages are on the verge of extinction."
This statement gained credibility in a report five days later when a report released by the US Census Bureau on Thursday called "Native North American Languages Spoken at Home in the United States: 2006 - 2010" is the first time ever the Census Bureau has tracked the use of languages by American Indians and Alaska Native. The study was part of the Census Bureauâ€™s American Community Survey Briefs that surveyed Americans from 2006 - 2010.
Sadly, only 5.4 percent of respondents indicated they could speak a Native North American language.
Creating opportunities for American Indian and Alaska Native to learn their Native languages is only a part of the challenging job ahead of Mr. Mendoza as he implements the executive order.
Since the executive order was issued while tribal leaders were in town, one will hope that it is not intended only to assist American Indians living on tribal lands. It is imperative that the White House Initiative on American Indians and Alaska Native Education does not forget about the more than two-thirds of American Indians who live in urban and rural setting off reservations.
Many times their family may be the only Native family attending an individual school somewhere in America. Given the vast distortions about American Indians being taught in public schools, the American Indian students can easily develop feelings of isolation and alienation in these schools.
That is why the language of "opportunities to learn their Native languages, cultures and histories" for American Indians and Alaska Natives seems so huge for them.
One would hope this part of the executive order remains so that American Indian and Alaska Native students can in fact have opportunities to learn the Native languages, cultures and histories. It is understood schools are not the only educators of youth, for it the responsibility also rests with parents, extended families, and communities to play integral roles in the total education of our youth.
But, the Education Initiative gives hope to our population that has been virtually stripped of our languages and cultures and has left behind so many times in the past by the educational system in the United States.
posted December 12, 2012 9:40 am est
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