Washington--Representatives of several American Indian organizations expressed extreme displeasure with the Reagan Administration’s proposal to transfer federal Indian-education programs from the Education Department (ED) to the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) during hearings before a Senate subcommittee last week.
The proposed transfer of several federal education programs to the BIA was included as a part of the Administration’s proposal to dismantle ED and to disperse some of its components to other branches of the government.
The Administration, however, has not sent its bill to dismantle ed to Congress, and some observers have predicted that the Administration will not introduce the controversial plan in the current legislative session.
Witnesses who testified at the hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs, however, indicated that they were extremely worried about the prospect of a transfer of programs to the BIA
“It is clearly recognized that the Department of the Interior and the BIA are not the entities upon which Indian parents could entrust the responsibility for providing their children with quality education, and for more than 20 years the general theme of Indian education has been to move responsibility from their exclusive domain,” Francis McKinley, a member of the National Advisory Council on Indian Education, told members of the committee.
“Now we are being asked to reverse those policies completely and to transfer programs to the BIA,” he added, “without consultation with the Indian people, ignoring the recommendations of many Indian tribes and national Indian organizations, and with no adequate justification or rationale.”
The proposed transfer of education programs to the BIA “would be tantamount to setting the fox to guarding the chickens,” added John Rouillard, vice-chairman of the advisory council.
“The BIA fails to acknowledge that education is a trust responsibility,” Mr. Rouillard continued. “Since their concern does not include education, we feel that Congress’s support of this proposal would be acknowledgement of [the BIA’s] concept of the limits of their trust responsibility,” he added.
Other witnesses who testified before the committee also expressed concerns about the cumulative effect of federal budget reductions on Indian education programs and about BIA proposals to close several boarding schools within the next two years.
But practically all witnesses said they were most concerned about the BIA’s perceived retreat from the position that the education of Indian children is a solemn trust responsibility of the federal government.
“The United States assumed the responsibility to protect tribes and their ways of life through a series of treaties and other federal laws,” said Rudy Clements, a member of the education committee of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Spring Reservation in Oregon.
“We believe unequivocally that just as you cannot separate a people from their lands, the federal government cannot separate itself from its responsibilty to Indian people,” he added.
Roy H. Sampsel, deputy assistant secretary for Indian affairs in the Department of the Interior, said, however, that the status of the trust relationship with regard to education was not particularly clear.
“We should not be so troubled about the legal definition of this relationship between the government and the tribes,” Mr. Sampsel said. ''We must remember that the federal government recognizes a clear need for Indian education and that there is no attempt on the part of this Administration to back away from that responsibility.”
A version of this article appeared in the May 26, 1982 edition of Education Week as Indians Irked by Plan To Shift E.D. Programs