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Today Barack Obama signed an executive order, Improving American Indian and Alaska Native Educational Opportunities and Strengthening Tribal Colleges and Universities, creating an initiative to better coordinate the work of the Department of Education and the Bureau of Indian Education (within the Dept. of the Interior) to

expand educational opportunities and improve educational outcomes for all AI/AN students, including opportunities to learn their Native languages, cultures, and histories and receive complete and competitive educations that prepare them for college, careers, and productive and satisfying lives

Funding for the new initiative, to come from the Dept. of Ed, would build capacity in tribal education agencies, public schools, and Tribal Colleges and Universities to deliver high-quality education to Native American students.  If the plans come to fruition, the United States could pay some of the back-rent it owes for the tribal lands it occupies.

With the involvement of the Department of Education (which prior to the Obama administration had never consulted directly with tribes) this new initiative amounts to an acknowledgment that the federal trust responsibility to tribes extends beyond the Bureau of Indian Affairs to the entire federal government and to any state or local agency or school that accepts federal funding.  Let's hope that idea catches on.

The order states that it is the Administration's goal

to fulfill our commitment to furthering tribal self-determination and to help ensure that AI/AN students have an opportunity to learn their Native languages and histories and receive complete and competitive educations that prepare them for college, careers, and productive and satisfying lives

The objectives of the new initiative include:

(i)    increasing the number and percentage of AI/AN children who enter kindergarten ready for success through improved access to high quality early learning programs and services, including Native language immersion programs...

(ii)   supporting the expanded implementation of education reform strategies that have shown evidence of success in enabling AI/AN students to acquire a rigorous and well-rounded education...

(iii)  increasing the number and percentage of AI/AN students who have access to excellent teachers and school leaders, including effective science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), language, and special education teachers...

(iv)   reducing the AI/AN student dropout rate...

(v)    providing pathways that enable those who have dropped out to reenter educational or training programs and acquire degrees, certificates, or industry recognized credentials and obtain quality jobs...

(vi)   increasing college access and completion for AI/AN students...

(vii)  helping to ensure that the unique cultural, educational, and language needs of AI/AN students are met.

In the Dept. of Ed publication Tribal Leaders Speak, Ivan M. Ivan, Tribal Chief of the Akiak Native Community, says of the Department's consultations,

Please let us know what the results of all this is because I've been to many of these over 40-some years and, in most cases, nothing happens.

Given the current pressure to reduce spending and cut services, it remains to be seen whether something actually happens in Indian country as a result of this new initiative or it just adds up, once again, to a lot of talk.  

Originally posted to Fresno on Fri Dec 02, 2011 at 04:52 PM PST.

Also republished by Native American Netroots and Invisible People.

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