Native American youth, parents and advocates told federal officials that their efforts to make school more inviting are frequently dismissed or met with hostility, according to a report on a nine-city listening tour that concluded in Seattle last November.

Share story

Last fall, federal education officials asked Native Americans in seven states, including Washington, to tell them what was happening with their children in the nation’s public schools and colleges.

The last of nine sessions on the listening tour was held at the Daybreak Star Cultural Center in Seattle’s Discovery Park in late November.

Seattle speakers raised concerns about unfair discipline, the bureaucratic hurdles involved in filing federal civil rights complaints and the need for more accurate portrayals of Native American culture and history in school lessons.

Their comments are summarized in a report that was announced at the National Indian Education Association conference in Portland last week.

The report, which looks at ways to improve the school environment for Native Americans, is part of an initiative President Obama launched by executive order in 2011 to to support expanding opportunities and improving education outcomes for American Indian and Alaska Native students.

“Through their tears, hurt, and anger, participants voiced their concerns regarding the conditions they experience in schools and institutions of higher education,” said William Mendoza, the initiative’s executive director, in a letter introducing the report.

He said efforts to improve school environments aren’t including Native Americans, whose concerns and complaints are “frequently dismissed or met with hostility. Native youth, parents, and advocates say they are alone in their efforts to address these issues and that circumstances are often unbearable.”

More than 1,000 students, educators and parents spoke on a range of issues, including how Native Americans are represented both in the history books and in the choice of school mascots and logos. Some of those speakers are quoted in the report and identified by their tribal affiliations.

Washington’s tribal history curriculum was praised when the listening tour stopped in Oklahoma City.

“We need to make Native American studies a mandatory course, even if just for one credit. Washington State is working on incorporating lesson plans based on Washington tribes’ language and history. This is a thing we could do in Oklahoma because we have a large Native population,” said Johnnie Jae Morris (Otoe-Missouria/Choctaw).

But speakers at the Seattle session said Washington still has room for improvement.

“Our music teacher makes us sing patriotic songs with lyrics like, ‘pilgrims’ pride; land where my fathers died; let freedom ring.’ This is offensive to me,” said Lakota Dimond (Hunkpapa Lakota).

And an anthropologist said kids need to know more about the lives of contemporary Native Americans.

“Eighty-seven percent of the representations of Native Americans in the curriculum today in the United States are pre-1900. That’s ridiculous in 2014.” said Chad Uran (White Earth Anishinaabe).


Want to receive Education Lab’s daily reports by email?  Sign up for the Education Lab newsletter.