Sen. Jon Tester: Education builds foundation for Indian Country

The following is the opinion of Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana).

Sen. Jon Tester

Living in Montana, you’re never too far from Indian Country. But I live closer than most. Right down the road from my farm in Big Sandy is the Rocky Boys Reservation, home to the Chippewa-Cree Tribe.

Standing up for Indian Country is a responsibility I never take lightly. That’s why, earlier this month, I stepped forward to become the Chairman of the U.S. Senate’s Indian Affairs Committee.

Leading the Indian Affairs Committee will give me new opportunities to work with tribes to improve the quality of life for Montana’s – and America’s – Indian Country.

New opportunities to empower tribes. To help strengthen tribal economies. And to push for new policies that help our kids and grandkids reach new heights.

I recently spoke to the National Congress of American Indians. In my address, I discussed many issues facing Indian Country, but I highlighted one area in particular where we can work together to build a strong foundation for our kids and grandkids.


In Indian Country, we have challenges with water sovereignty, crime and housing that must be addressed, but as a former teacher, I know that a good education can lead to a successful life.

You don’t have to be a teacher to understand education’s far-reaching benefits. That includes early childhood education, elementary and secondary school, and a meaningful college degree.

Education is the foundation for sound life choices that increase economic security and help us climb the ladder of success. But education’s greatest value is how it expands our worldview and prepares us to take on the challenges we face every day.

As Chairman, I will continue to seek more ways to improve tribal schools and tribal colleges. The recent cuts to Native schools from the overall budget and sequestration should never have happened. Because when we don’t invest in our kids, they can’t invest in their futures.

But as students make progress, we need to make sure their Native culture and languages remain strong parts of their lives. That’s why I recently introduced the Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act.

My bipartisan bill establishes a grant program to fund Native language education programs throughout Indian Country. Because schools in Indian Country should not have to choose between teaching math and teaching culture. They should have the resources to do both.

We are in danger of losing too many sacred Native languages. By preserving them, we will better connect students with their traditional cultures, giving them more confidence and leading to better performance in the classroom.

Working together, we will strengthen and improve the quality of life in Indian Country. We will expand economic opportunities, create safer communities, strengthen health care systems, and preserve the natural resources that are so abundant in Indian Country. And while we won’t get it done tomorrow, I have full confidence in our ability to make big strides for all Native Americans.

I know we’ll get it done because I see hope and opportunity every time I visit Indian Country. Whether I’m walking in the shadows of Glacier National Park at Blackfeet or inspecting a water project at Fort Peck, I meet with men, women and children fighting for their communities.

They’re fighting to overcome barriers. To make a difference for their communities. And to leave a legacy for our future generations.

We will fight together to overcome those barriers and make a difference, because making excuses won’t get it done.

It’s an honor to serve you. I look forward to working with you as your Senator – and now as Chairman of Indian Affairs – as together we seize new opportunities to make Indian Country all that it can be.

Senator Jon Tester is Montana’s senior U.S. Senator, Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and a third-generation Montana farmer.

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