Montana Schools Must Teach Indian History

May 15th, 2006 | By | Category: 17-4: Reforming Our Schools, Native Style, Tribal College News

Tribal colleges recently have been asked by the state of Montana to help prepare curriculum to assure that students throughout the state understand the history of tribes there. The Montana Legislature provided first time funding in 2005 to implement legislation passed in 1999 that requires “Indian Education for All.”

The legislation is designed to address a problem that exists in most schools across the nation: History classes provide a biased or incomplete perspective on the role of American Indians in the nation’s history.

Efforts in South Dakota to pass similar legislation this year failed. The South Dakota Legislature also failed to provide any funding for tribal college students, which Montana lawmakers have provided for 14 years off and on in that state.

The state constitution has language requiring schools to educate all students about American Indians. A recent court case says that such education would also help with the drop out problem.

For the 2004-05 school year, American Indian students represented 10.7% of the total school enrollment for grades 7 through 12, but they accounted for 26.7% of the total dropouts. On average American Indian students drop out of grades 7 and 8 at a rate more than 12 times that of white students and out of high school at a rate three times that of white students.

“One of the reasons that Indian students dropped out of school was that schools provided Indian students with no role models or curricula that was inclusive of Indian culture or of relevance to Indian students,” according to a 2001 U. S. Commission on Civil Rights study.

The decision in a recent school funding lawsuit criticized the state, saying it “failed to recognize the distinct and unique cultural heritage of American Indians and has shown no commitment in its educational goals to the preservation of their cultural identity.”

The 2005 legislature also provided targeted money for all students considered at risk and first time funding to school districts to assist them with efforts to reduce the American Indian achievement gap.

The Montana legislature provided $2 million to the tribal colleges to develop their histories. These tribal histories will be given to schools throughout the state so they can implement the Indian Education for All and present material developed by the tribes themselves.

In other action, the Montana Legislature once again appropriated $900,000 for the biennium to pay the tribal colleges up to $l,500 for each of their non-Indian students. For 14 years, off and on, the state has helped defray the costs of educating “non-beneficiary” Montana resident students at tribal colleges, similar to the funding provided by the state to “comparable sister institutions of the Montana university system.”

Tribal colleges receive basic operational funding from the federal government under the Tribally Controlled College and University Assistance Act. Funding is based solely on the number of full-time Indian students. These are the students the TCCUAA is designed to “benefit.” All other students attending tribal colleges who are not enrolled tribal members are referred to as “non-beneficiary students” since they do not generate revenue under the TCCUAA or any other source.

These non-Indian students do not benefit from the federal institutional funding for tribal colleges, which is provided only for Indian students.

Tribal college spokespersons in Montana credit their success to Gov. Brian Schweitzer and to the efforts of eight American Indian legislators in the state legislature, particularly Rep. Carol Juneau (Mandan/Hidatsa), who has sponsored the Indian Education for All legislation and has led state funding efforts for several years.

The governor put both measures into his budget that he sent to the legislature. Schweitzer has four American Indians on his staff including two in his cabinet. He served as the commencement speaker at Salish Kootenai College (Pablo, MT).

For more information regarding Indian Education for All and efforts to reduce the American Indian achievement gap, contact Denise Juneau, director of the Division of Indian Education Programs at the state of Montana (888) 231-9393 or see www.opi.mt.gov/IndianEd/Index.html. A copy of the Indian Education for All legislation can be found on the website, http://data.opi.state.mt.us/bills/billhtml/HB0528.htm

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