Quinton Roman Nose


President, National Indian Education Association

I would like to tell you a story.   It is an Indian story, and a personal to my own family. This story comes from the beginnings of federal Indian education policy- a time of great change and tragedy.   

I am a descendent of Chief Roman Nose. In 1875, he was captured along with other Cheyenne and sent to Ft. Marion in St. Augustine, Florida. Then in 1879, he and other Cheyenne went to the first Carlisle Indian Industrial School, the first Indian boarding school. And we know what happened afterward.

Of course, we as Natives have felt the waves of time ripple through our families’ experiences in Indian education.   We know the stories.   We have heard them.   We have songs for them.   We know the saying:   “Kill the Indian, save the man.”   We live with it now, as do our children.

And now, as we gather in this room today for the cause of Native education, we must remember and recognize that our children and grandchildren – the generations we are now guiding – look to us for their future.  

But let us also remember, that the ones that came before us, our people, our grandfathers and grandmothers, our mothers and fathers, the leaders of our shared past- stand strong beside us and expect that we will harness the opportunity to come together and build the future for the generations that come after us.

What we do today, this week, and this year, is another path that builds the bridges between our children’s future and our ancestors’ past.   Our traditions already do this.   Our stories already do this.   Our songs already do this.   Our ceremonies and dances already do this.   Our languages do this.  

It is time, once again, for all of us educators to make sure that Native education builds these bridges as well, as it had always done for thousands of years.   

Thank you for coming to Washington to fight for this.   And because we are in Washington, it’s time for me to get into the details of this vital cause.  

First, I will tell you what NIEA has been doing here in Washington. Then, I will introduce the agenda for what we all want to accomplish in the next year, which will be a discussion between us as educators and what the Federal government should be doing.   

This past year, NIEA Participated with National Congress of American Indians and the United South Eastern Tribes in drafting provisions of what would later become the Native CLASS Act. The Native CLASS Act, which was passed last year by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs develops culturally based curriculum and assessments and support schools and programs that use Native language as the primary instrument of instruction. It authorizes increased tribal control over the education of Indian students. And it establishes teacher development programs to recruit native teachers and ensure culturally aligned instruction. NIEA continues to advocate for the provisions of the Native CLASS Act in all its communication and education activities on Capitol Hill

NIEA also teamed up with the United South and Eastern Tribes, the National Council of American Indians, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, and the All Indian Pueblo Council to advocate for the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Act (currently known as the No Child Left Behind Act). We worked to ensure that tribal needs are addressed in the ESEA bill.

NIEA also worked with national partners representing the African American, Latino, and Asian communities. This includes working with the Campaign for High School Equity to reduce student dropout rates, to increase the number of effective teachers, and to increase college and career readiness for Native students.

On the White House front, NIEA assisted in planning and implementing national Tribal leader consultations on the State of Indian Education and advocated for the public release of the US Department of Education’s Report entitled Tribal Leaders Speak: The State of Indian Education 2010.

This report highlighted concerns from Tribal leaders nationwide on issues such as the inadequacy of federal education funding, the need for increased availability of native language and culture-based education, the need for more tribal control of education systems responsible for educating native students, and the need for increased recruitment and retention of native teachers.

NIEA also supported the creation of a Presidential Executive Order to increase the visibility and attention devoted to American Indian and Alaska Native education within all federal agencies. This Executive Order mandated all federal agencies create plans to assure that the education needs of American Indian and Alaska Natives are taken into account, that their native languages, cultures, and traditional ways are honored and respected, and that the education progress of American Indian and Alaska Native students will be tracked and reported from one year to the next.

On the communications front, NIEA live-streamed its annual convention in Albuquerque. NIEA also launched a new and improved Website with research and policy updates and useful data that can be used by native education advocates for informing and assisting them in their work.

On data and research, NIEA started a research division to capture and tell our stories of education success and our unmet education needs. We collected, analyzed, and distributed research on the impact of native language and culture based approaches to promote native student engagement and education success. We also disseminated Native education research and best practice at state and national conferences, convened a team of Native education researchers to address NIEA’s research priorities, and launched an e-network to inform Native education researchers.

NIEA also worked with the U.S Department of Education’s Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) to provide information on Native education research, and encouraged and trained native researchers to display their research on this website.

We translated research into practice in partnership with the Regional Comprehensive Centers, the Regional Educational Laboratories, the Equity Assistance Centers, and several universities including the Native American Program at Harvard University. And we worked with the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and other organizations to help the public use and interpret data on Native people.

This is impressive work. But we have so much more to do.

There are at least 700,000 American Indian, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians in public K-12 schools. Only around HALF of our students graduate high school. Of those that graduated high school, a quarter complete a certificate or Associate Degree, and about a third complete a Bachelor’s within six years of enrollment. Seventy of Bureau of Indian Education schools failed to satisfy the Adequate Yearly Progress requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2005. Our Native students need and deserve excellent, culturally-based education -- and they need it now.

We realize this will be a difficult year. The budgetary constraints are daunting. But we can and will fight for Native education.   We must continue to work on both sides of the aisle for dramatic and lasting change in Native education.  

First, we must continue moving towards a federal education policy that supports Tribal Self-Sufficiency and Self-Determination, which also holds the federal government to its trust responsibility to Indian tribes.    

This year, we are focusing on these five areas: (1) Strengthening tribal control of education; (2) Addressing the needs of Native education in urban settings, (3) investing in cultural and language revitalization; (4) developing and retaining Native teachers, administrators, and education leaders; and (5) improving the federal government’s support of Native education.  

When we talk about Strengthening Tribal Control of Education, it means funding the establishment of Tribal education departments and mandating more collaboration and sharing of data from the States and local education agencies.

We are talking about Addressing the Needs of Native Education in Urban Settings, it means supporting the inclusion of Urban Native learners as educational policy is developed and resources are allocated at the federal, state, and local levels.  

We are talking about Investing in Cultural and Language Revitalization. Native students who have a strong foundation in their language and culture perform better academically.   Therefore, NIEA supports culturally based education and Native language instruction, including language immersion programs.

It also means Developing and Retaining Native teachers, administrators, and education leaders. It is critically important to build up a larger and stronger cadre of Natives working in the education field.   This effort would include more resources for professional development, salary increases and other long-term employment incentives.

And it means Improving the Federal Government’s Support of Native Education. The Federal government could take several important steps to improve its support of Native education.  

Today, President Obama will release his proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2013. We know that he plans to stay within the budget limits set by the Congress last summer. This means that he has to offer a budget that is a little less than one percent smaller than the FY 2012 budget.  He has indicated that he wants to emphasize science and math education in this budget.  He has also said that those who are most vulnerable will be cut the least.  We will soon learn what this means for Indian education programs. 

But his budget will not reflect the planned cuts that the law provides for in January 2013.  Unless Congress amends the law, we will see cuts of 8.5 percent to 9 percent in virtually all domestic programs, including education.

The Federal government has a trust obligation to Native peoples, which is unique and based on treaties, agreements and the cession of lands. For millennia, Native American cultures and communities flourished on this continent. However, in recent centuries our ability to educate our children has been under assault.

The Federal government historically has displayed a keen understanding of the central importance of our ancient ways, beliefs, culture and language to tribal unity and strength - and for years made every effort to destroy those beliefs.  This effort to kill our minds and our spirits failed, but not without first doing great damage.  Indian languages are in retreat.  Native students perform far below their potential.  Federal paternalism has encouraged poor self-esteem for too many of our youth. 

The Native spirit has endured and, in recent years, grown stronger. 

Much of the harm inflicted upon Native peoples is being undone by Native people themselves - and yet the resources needed to complete this great task can only be found with the originator of the harm – the Federal Government.

For far too long, others have brought education to us. And what they have given has not been of high quality or respectful to our cultures.

Now it’s time for us to choose education that is excellent and is based on our traditions. And this is especially important in an age in which the success of our communities – and the preservation of our languages – will be based on what we know and how we use the technologies of the future.

Let’s help every Native community choose a high-quality, culturally-based education. Let us join together to take control of the schools that nurture the futures of our children. And let’s work to ensure that the federal government meets its trust responsibility to all of us.  

Thank you for joining together to advocate for our children. And thank you for being part of NIEA!