BIE Schools & Sovereignty in Indian Education
A certain excitement comes with the start of a new school year. Like many students as summer begins to wind down, I started feeling the all too familiar back-to-school blues. The uncertainty of taking on a new role as a teacher for my second year at St. Francis Indian School was getting to me… still is. But, after a week of staff in-service filled with engaging presentation from the likes of Dr. Craig Howe, I am looking forward to all the good that will come from when I greet my students for the first time today.
Not only is today the start of the 2014-2015 school year for many in Indian country but a year that is promising positive change for tribal schools. Last month, the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) announced $2.5 million of funding for Sovereignty in Indian Education grants (SIE grants). The SIE grants are available to any federally recognized tribe and its respective tribal education department.
Ultimately, SIE grants will give greater agency to tribes on reservations with BIE-funded schools. This greater control for tribes goes beyond overseeing the day-to-day operations of BIE-funded schools and promises to impact tribal education curriculum for years to come.
In fact, if the SIE grants accomplish what they are set out to accomplish, the entire future of federally recognized tribes stands to change for the better. In the SIE press release, this quote from U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, sums up that feeling:
“We believe strongly that American Indian children deserve an academically rigorous, culturally appropriate education. Beyond providing the skills to succeed economically, honoring tribal cultures and languages is vital to the longevity of tribal traditions, identity and self-confidence.”
As a result, the SIE grants could empower federally recognized tribes to not only begin or continue teaching their language, culture, and traditions in the classroom but to weave indigenous knowledge into other subjects through culturally responsive education. Both the individual student and the collective stand to benefit.
Today, Native Americans walk in two worlds. They must balance who they are as Native Americans with the influence and impact of the dominant culture in the United States. Through the SIE grants and culturally responsive education, Native Americans can take charge of their education and future as independent nations. The issue of education in Indian country is an issue of sovereignty, after all. If Native Americans lose their indigenous knowledge and rights, they will no longer exist as Native Americans. They will simply become “Americans.”