Health & Education

Grand Ronde staff members weigh in on future of Indian education in Oregon

05.14.2018 Danielle Frost Education, Events, Tribal Employees

By Danielle Frost

CORVALLIS -- Several Grand Ronde Tribal employees participated in the Oregon Indian Education Association Conference held Tuesday and Wednesday, May 1-2, where Senate Bill 13 and the beginnings of curriculum were among topics discussed.

Senate Bill 13 calls on the Oregon Department of Education to develop curriculum relating to the Native American experience in Oregon. This includes Tribal history, sovereignty, culture, treaty rights, government, socioeconomic experiences and current events.

Tribal member and Department of Education Indian Education Advisor April Campbell presented on the topic during the conference held at Oregon State University.

“This session continues to raise awareness of Tribal history and was an opportunity to engage in conversation about what we want all students in Oregon to learn about Oregon Indians,” Campbell said.

After the conference concluded, an advisory committee met to discuss curriculum that will be implemented in school districts for the 2019-20 school year.

Tribal Education Department Manager Leslie Riggs and CurriculumSpecialist/Academic Advisor Mercedes Jones attended the conference and advisory committee meetings.

“The biggest benefit of the (conference) is the networking and opportunity to meet and introduce myself to a lot of people doing great things in Indian Country,” Riggs said. “You learn a lot from the keynote speakers and bring back the information to your community.”

The committee meetings included 18 representatives from Oregon’s nine federally recognized Tribes and was led by Portland-based Education Northwest consultants, a nonprofit organization working with the Department of Education to implement Senate Bill 13.

“We were given curriculum from states that have implemented Tribal history requirements,” Riggs said. “We got together in small groups and discussed what we thought was useful. It was a really good process and definitely a benefit to learn from other states and not have to start from scratch.”

Senate Bill 13 will include the creation of 45 lesson plans for fourth-, eighth- and 10th-graders, professional development for educators this summer regarding the curriculum and implementation during the 2019-20 school year.

Other Grand Ronde Education Department employees who attended were Youth Education Program Manager Tim Barry, sixth through 12th grade Tutor Vincent Chargualaf, Middle School Lead Dominique Olson, Family Services Coordinator Audra Sherwood, K-5 Tutor/Advisor Lead Kyla Evenson and K-5 Tutor/Advisor George Neujahr.

Conference topics ranged from decolonizing curriculum to integrating traditional knowledge to pathways to higher education.

The Oregon Indian Education Association started after passage of the 1969 Indian Education Act as a professional development and networking opportunity to increase advocacy and the voice of Native people in Oregon.

Tribal Council member Kathleen George spoke during lunch on Tuesday, May 1, where she thanked attendees for caring about Tribal education and students.

“We know that many Tribal students continue to struggle in Oregon’s education system,” she said. “The best statewide report that we have for Tribal students, the Chalkboard Project report, tells us that just about 55 percent of our Tribal member students will graduate on time from high school. This data is a little dated, but talk with anyone working in Tribal education and they will tell you that is about right.”

She said that for too many students it is a path to their future that lacks the tools they need to find stability, economic independence and fulfillment.

“Our kids disproportionally come from families that are underemployed and did not have access to a strong education themselves,” George said. “It is also important for us to remember that in the story of our Tribal families, for many school was not a safe place.”

George discussed Senate Bill 13 by noting that in order to improve, there also must be understanding that the education system needs to change to incorporate and understand indigenous perspectives.

“Advancing education for Tribal people will not only help the individual themselves, but also help their Tribes address some of the real issues we face,” she said. “We need the future natural resource managers, leaders of cultural preservation: The ones who can bring new ideas for economic and social sustainability to their communities.”

During welcoming remarks the first day of the conference, Oregon Indian Education Association President Robin Butterfield spoke about pathways to sovereignty, spiritual strength, cultural knowledge and school success.

She said that although President Donald Trump’s proposed Indian education budget included cuts of up to $100 million that Congress approved an increase from $891 million to $914 million.

“It was the biggest increase since 2011,” Butterfield said. “Congress came through for Indian people.”

Budget increases went toward Title VI grants and impact aid. The grants provide assistance to elementary and secondary schools for programs serving Indian students, including preschool children. The Impact Aid program goes toward local school districts with concentrations of children residing on Indian lands, military bases, low-rent housing properties or other federal properties.