Published June 28, 2017
FORT PECK, MONTANA – Attorneys representing the Tribal Executive Board of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation filed a Title VI complaint today with the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice alleging discrimination against children of the Assiniboine and Sioux Nations in the Wolf Point School District.
“There is substantial evidence that the Wolf Point School District violates federal standards for equal education,” said attorney Melina Healey, an Equal Justice Works Fellow who is representing the Tribal Executive Board. “Native students have been systematically disadvantaged in comparison to their non-Native peers through racially biased enforcement of school discipline policies, inequitable access to school activities, and verbal abuse by teachers and staff. We hope that the Departments of Justice and Education will help grant Native students the education and opportunities they deserve.”
The Fort Peck Indian Reservation, located in the remote northeast corner of Montana, grapples with a past weighed down by discrimination and racism. For generations, assimilationist boarding schools strategically and violently suppressed Native culture, language and Native children. White homesteaders inherited preferential reservation land allotments. Today, although the majority of the reservation’s 10,000 residents are Native, a small population of white residents control the Wolf Point government, local economy and school board.
“The discrimination our children face builds off a legacy of hostility towards our community and culture,” said community member and parent, Louella Douglas-Contreras. “Our children have the right to feel safe in their schools and supported in their community but instead, they have been ridiculed and taunted by their teachers, administrators, and coaches. We hope that this complaint will start a process of healing. Our children have a right to hope and happiness through education afforded us in the Constitution. We hope the federal government will intervene by investigating these issues. Our children are our future.”
The ACLU of Montana has signed on in support of the complaint. Caitlin Borgmann, Executive Director said, “We commend the parents and students for their resiliency despite the generations that have endured inequality and discrimination. Native parents and children have exhausted every avenue to resolve their concerns and it is time for them to find justice.”
The Department of Justice has 180 days to review the complaint before deciding whether to investigate.
CORRECTION: This article was corrected on July 6, 2017. An earlier version had an inaccurate quote.