Published October 15, 2015
PORTLAND, OREGON – The U.S. Department of Education released the School Environment Listening Sessions Final Report today on the first-ever tribal listening tour to hear from schools and communities on ways to better meet the unique educational and culturally related academic needs of Native American students. The report was announced at the 46th annual National Indian Education Association Convention.
“If we are going to live up to our promise as a nation where every child truly has fair shot at success, we have to do more to improve opportunities and educational outcomes for Native youth. The listening tour revealed too many stories of school environments that rather than building on the strengths of Native youth, are stifling their potential,” said William Mendoza, executive director of the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education (WHIAIANE). “We need to ensure that every student has a supportive and a safe environment.”
WHIAIANE held nine school environment listening sessions in seven states from New York to California to Alaska last year, drawing over 1,000 attendees. The report summarizes information from the participants on many issues such as potentially harmful Native imagery and symbolism, bullying, student mental health, instructional content, and Native languages. Each section of the report includes a brief description of a common theme found across listening sessions followed by supporting data and testimonies from youths, parents, teachers, and others affected by these issues. The report also includes recommendations from the participants.
WHIAIANE and the Department’s Office for Civil Rights collaborated with tribal leaders and communities on the listening sessions. Participants in the listening sessions included Native youth, educators, parents and community advocates. The information from these sessions will guide WHIAIANE’s future work and goals — to address the unique and culturally related academic needs of American Indian and Alaska Native students and to ensure that they receive an excellent education.
In his visit to Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota, President Obama affirmed the Administration’s commitment to strengthen Native American communities through education and economic development. Following the visit, President Obama launched the Gen-I Initiative to focus on improving the lives of Native youth by removing the barriers that stand between Native youth and their opportunity to succeed. Through new investments and increased engagement, this initiative takes a comprehensive, culturally appropriate approach to ensure all young Native people can reach their full potential.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently announced the award of more than $5.3 million in grants under the new Native Youth Community Projects program to help Native American youth become college-and career-ready. Since his first trip to Indian Country in 2009, Duncan has engaged directly with tribal officials on a range of educational issues concerning Native youth.
The President’s FY 2016 budget proposal calls for increased investments across Indian Country, including a total request of $20.8 billion for a range of federal programs that serve tribes—a $1.5 billion increase over the 2015-enacted level. The budget proposal includes $53 million for fiscal year 2016—a $50 million increase from this year’s budget—to significantly expand the Native Youth Community Projects program.