Feds Urge States, Schools to Help Preserve Native American Languages

By Corey Mitchell — October 15, 2015 2 min read
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A new U.S. Department of Education report that explores ways to improve education for Native American students urges states and local districts to do more to preserve their heritage languages and promote cultural awareness.

Based on feedback gathered during a nine-stop, seven-state listening tour, the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education compiled a list of recommendations for the federal government and state and local districts. The department’s office of civil rights and the White House coordinated the listening sessions, which drew more than 1,000 attendees including students, educators, parents, and community advocates.

The tour participants suggested the federal government should do more to: simplify the process to file civil rights complaints; provide guidance on the “potentially harmful effects” of Native American mascots and imagery; and find ways to improve Native Americans students’ self-identification of race and ethnicity.

Among the ideas proposed for state education departments and school districts are: supporting the preservation of Native American languages; guarding against disproportionate rates of suspension and expulsion for Native students; providing cultural competence training for teachers and other staff; promoting cultural awareness, including coursework and lessons on tribal history.

“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 initiaitve.

The education department staff timed the release of the report to the National Indian Education Association Convention underway in Portland.

The information from the sessions will guide future work 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,” said education department spokeswoman Raymonde Charles.

The schools that Native American children attend are often not equipped to serve them, and American Indian and Alaska Native students are less likely to graduate from high school than any other racial or ethnic group. Education Week‘s Lesli Maxwell explored the challenges in a 2013 series, Education in Indian Country: Running in Place.

Members of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet conducted their own listening tour this year. Obama announced plans for the sessions after he visited the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota last year, saying he wanted his Cabinet members to also hear from young people growing up in similar communities.

The U.S. Education Department recently awarded $5.3 million in grants to help Native American youth as part of its Native Youth Community Projects program.

School Environment Listening Sessions Final Report

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.