Located in a section of the bill titled “Bureau of Indian Education, Education Construction,” the line item clearly reads, “For an additional amount for ‘Education Construction,’ $90,465,000, to remain available until expended for necessary expenses related to the consequences of flooding at the To’Hajiilee Community School.”
According to a story from HuffPost in June, the To’Hajiilee Community School was built on a floodplain, so when there’s flooding from the nearby canyon, walls of water barrel down the school with such force that cars have been washed away.
But it’s not just flooding. The foundation of the building is cracked and sinking, and so unsafe that the U.S. government shut the school down in March, sending the students home to work remotely—despite the fact that many kids do not have access to the Internet.
To’Hajiilee is one of 183 K-12 schools overseen by the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), which serve over 48,000 Indigenous children around the nation. Most are in serious disrepair, HuffPost reports.
The school has a dark history, as well, as it was once one of several hundred infamous federal Indian boarding schools. Forced assimilation schools were government-operated residential schools for Native American children, who were legally (but unethically) removed from their families and made to live in often violent physically, emotionally, and sexually abusive situations—all in an effort to assimilate them into white culture. The stated purpose of the policy was to “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.”
But the To’Hajiilee Community School has remained a stalwart for those who attend and work there. Stansbury, who represents the school’s district, was determined to find the money to rebuild it. She was elected in 2021 to fill the vacated seat of Deb Haaland, who is now the first Native American Cabinet member in her role as secretary of the Interior Department.
Stansbury tells HuffPost she spent “every day, all day long,” working on getting lawmakers on the Hill to earmark money for the school.
“We’ve been working so hard on this for so long, I literally woke up … and bawled my eyes out… I invested everything I had to get funding for this school. The To’Hajiilee community is only a short distance from Albuquerque, but the people out there have so much need, and the community hasn’t had its needs and priorities met. It’s just so huge for this community.”
She added: “Even if I accomplish nothing else in my time serving in Congress… this is the most important thing I could have ever imagined that we could get into the budget.”
The congresswoman tells HuffPost that her 18 long months of work mean a bold step forward in tribal education, a “new era.”
“This is an opportunity for this community that has been ignored for so long, across the board, to create a state-of-the-art school to provide an education to children for generations… that is really, truly, reflective of the culture and language and community values of the To’Hajiilee community,” she says.
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