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Long fight not over for Indian Education for All - March 11, 2005
By JODI RAVE Of the Missoulian
''Our stories teach us that we must always work for a time when there
will be no evil, no racial prejudice, no pollution ... a time when
spiritual, physical, mental and social values are interconnected to
form a complete circle.''
- Salish Culture Committee
HELENA - Understand thy Native neighbor.
Some educators and community leaders believe it's a goal that can be
met in public school classrooms across the state.
And when they met recently in Helena, many arrived ready to revive a
vision. Bolstered by recent legislation and court rulings, they still
believed Native issues could be integrated into K-12 curricula.
''First of all, it's constitutional,'' State Superintendent Linda
McCulloch said. ''It's statutory. But the real reason, the most
important reason, is that 148,000 students need to know this
information ... Frankly, it isn't just the K-12 students that we're
''It's every potential adult in Montana that needs to know this. Indian
Education for All isn't just about educating students about the
cultural heritage of American Indians. It's making sure that we all are
tolerant of different groups. When that happens, and that tolerance is
achieved, we erase racism.''
Now all they need is the money.
A 30-year fight
McCulloch, a former teacher, brought Native-based education to the
forefront last fall, when she led the Office of Public Instruction to
organize October's Indian Education Summit in Helena.
For many, it had been a three-decade effort. ''As many of you in the
room know, today is not the beginning discussion on Indian education,''
McCulloch said in her address. ''I see some people who have worked on
Indian education for many, many years.''
Indeed, some of the 200 torch-carriers attending had since retired. Yet
there were those like Rep. Carol Juneau, D-Browning, who refused to
quit pushing for change. And with recent court rulings on their side,
it seemed the day might have finally arrived when lawmakers and public
schools would uphold the 1972 Montana Constitution's Article X.
Juneau's education career spans 30 years, as teacher and administrator
in tribal and public schools. She brought that experience to the
Legislature eight years ago.
In 1999, even before a district court - followed by the Montana Supreme
Court - pushed quality and Native education into the spotlight, Juneau
introduced the Indian Education for All act. The bill reminded her
legislative colleagues and state educators that Montana Constitution's
Article X - Section 1, Subsection 2 - required the state to preserve
the cultural integrity of Native people.
Her bill became law.
Furthermore, the constitution's Native education article would later
become central to the school funding lawsuit argued before District
Court Judge Jeffrey Sherlock of Helena beginning in January 2004.
Attorney Jim Malloy called on Juneau to testify on behalf of the
constitution's Native education mandate.
Malloy: ''Carol - is the Indian Education for All act intended just to
serve the needs of Indian students?''
Juneau: ''It's for every Montanan. It's for every school district. It's
for every student in every school district to be provided with an
opportunity to learn about their tribal neighbors.''
Malloy: ''Okay. And, yet, does it have an important purpose with
respect to serving the needs of Indian students in our public
Juneau: ''Absolutely. Say you're an Indian student walking into a
classroom in one of Montana's schools, and you don't see anything about
Indian people in that classroom, you don't see anything visual in the
classroom, you open your textbooks, there is nothing ... I think that
child is going to get a pretty strong message that they don't belong or
they don't fit. When you feel valued and when you feel that you belong,
you do better in school.''
'Jumping for joy'
In April, Sherlock ruled in favor of the Montana Quality Education
Coalition, which filed the lawsuit against the state.
The Montana Supreme Court upheld the ruling in November, then ordered
the state to define ''quality'' education so it could adequately fund
state schools. Second, it found the funding system ''failed to
recognize the distinct and unique cultural heritage of American Indians
and has shown no commitment in its education goals to the preservation
of Indian cultural identity.''
The ruling was cause for a victory dance. ''I was jumping for joy,''
said Rep. Norma Bixby, D- Lame Deer, who is also the Northern Cheyenne
tribal education director. ''We had another opinion, another court
ruling that said the state still has not honored the constitution and
For the first time in nearly 30 years, proponents of Native education
had reason to believe all Montana students - Native and non-Native -
would be taught Native issues, past and present. And furthermore, that
the state would increase efforts to close the achievement gap of Native
students, of which some 96 percent attend public schools.
For a six-year period beginning in 1991, 56 percent of Native students
graduated from high school, compared to 82 percent of white students.
''So when you think about Article X, and you read those two provisions
together, quality education and Indian Education for All, they're
basically saying the same thing - for all Montana's school children
deserve an opportunity that allows them to live good and effective
lives,'' said Ray Cross, a University of Montana law professor who
spoke to the state's Native legislators about their role in this year's
Winning a lawsuit represents only one step. Now come more pressing
questions. How much money should be allocated to Native education? And
once the money is there, how will teachers bring quality Native
curricula into the classroom?
The answers are uncertain.
Lawmakers have been grappling with the money issue since January.
Office of Public Instruction staff is still trying to create a way to
get Native-related curricula to more than 10,000 teachers. And the
Montana University System has yet to fully embrace teacher education
programs to qualify teachers to become familiar with Native-based
A proposed Native education budget request for $23 million was slashed.
The Senate Select Committee's Working Group reduced the amount to $7.5
million to be spent over the next two years. Then it voted to reduce
that amount to $1.4 million.
''The funding is still elusive,'' Juneau said Thursday. Yet she
remained confident progress was being made by her legislative
colleagues. ''I think some of them understand what Indian Education for
All is about, and how it's a significant part the lawsuit, and perhaps
The proposed budget is only enough to pay for a conference, someone to
look for grant money, a public Indian education campaign and $25,000
for the Montana Advisory Council on Indian Education, said Joyce
Silverthorne, a former member of the State Board of Education.
An important piece is missing from the proposed funding. ''It will not
fund professional development for all educators of the state,'' said
Silverthorne, who is also the 2004 National Indian Educator of the
But just as pro-Native educators have done before them, and for those
still in the trenches, Juneau and her education colleagues will
continue their fight.
''I always feel that unless somebody's here having a good clear voice
on it,'' she said, ''we will be forgotten.''
Jodi Rave, who covers Native issues for Lee Enterprises, can be reached
at (800) 366-7186 or jodi.rave at missoulian.com
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