The following are thoughts from Mike Reichenbach on the NIEA summit:
My expectations for learning at the NIEA summit were to learn about the issues in Native education. I have learned that and more. . .
Five words describe Day One
Not knowing what to expect, I was riding the elevator down to the meeting rooms and met Michael Hawkes from New Mexico who gave me a brief overview of funding issues that he was dealing with on the reservation where he worked. I have learned that this was to be a common theme throughout the day.
I was welcomed at the registration desk and provided a full agenda of events and a packet of materials. The first day’s agenda included a presentation on Effective Advocacy Strategies and Lobbying. The meeting is well organized and has kept on schedule.
There is an urgency regarding the reauthorization of the No Child Left behind Act. The NIEA is working to include language in the bill that will address Native education issues and promote Native control of educational programs and recognition of cultural instruction and Native language instruction.
Full funding for the Johnson O’Malley Act will be requested during visits to members of appropriations committees on Wednesday. The Johnson O’Malley Act provides supplemental funds to public schools to address the unique educational and cultural needs of Native children. Funding may be used for culturally relevant learning materials, Native language role-modeling and Native youth leadership programs.
The beauty of the organization is watching people with diverse backgrounds work together toward common goals. Each tribe and school is different.
The speakers were passionate about the issues and the work ahead. For example, one person from Minnesota described himself as a stay at home type, but he had passion about the issues and was excited to be in Washington for the third NIEA summit. He also serves on a local school board.
The issue of language preservation and fluency is one of the key issues for the NIEA. The Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act was signed into law on December 14, 2006. This was the first bill in more than 14 years that will preserve and protect Native languages. The next steps are to increase funding at the Administration for Native Americans, US Department of Health and Human Services.
Jackie Johnson, the Executive Director for National Council of American Indians reported on language as a means to better achievement. Schools that teach native culture and language are seeing higher testing scores.
I personally have enjoyed the meeting, meeting new people and trying to learn their perspectives on the issues.
The respect for culture was evident from when I first entered the meeting room. Photo’s of events at previous meetings both reflected a unity and way of knowing that was profound.
As a result of some of the presentations and discussions I am interested in learning about the difference between what it means to be a member of an indigenous people or an ethnic group. What position and influence does each have? How does an elected official view the differences and how does that influence action on the bills and funding issues of interest to NIEA?