Education | Opinion

Michael Gross: A new battle for self-determination at BIE schools

A historic photo of the Ramah Navajo High School in New Mexico. Photo from Ramah Navajo School Board

Attorney Michael Gross discusses reform plans for the Bureau of Indian Education:
A new front is opening in the turf war over Indian self-determination: Who controls Indian education—distant Federal bureaucrats or Indian communities attuned to their own children’s needs?

On the last day of July this year at an airport hotel in Denver, 65 Indian educators, elected tribal officials, representatives of tribally-run schools from across the nation, and some of their lawyers opened a two-day dialogue over what to do about the latest alphabet-soup Federal agency, the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) and its increasing marginalization of tribally-controlled schools.

Attendees came from Washington State, Michigan, Mississippi, Louisiana, North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Arizona and New Mexico. Throughout the first day, participants voiced dismay about the arrogance of the BIE with its unauthorized dictatorial edicts. They divided up into separate groups to discuss various aspects of the problem. I attended as counsel for the Ramah Navajo School Board in New Mexico.

“It’s all about who makes the decisions about what is best for Indian kids,” says Roger Bordeaux, the Rosebud Sioux superintendent of the Todd County School District, a tribally-controlled public school system on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. Bordeaux, who organized the Denver event, continued, “We believe it is the tribal governments’ and communities’ job and right and not the Federal government’s.”

His views reflect growing concern in Indian country over the BIE’s steady inroads on local education control. Several participants noted that Congress did not create BIE or give it the powers it has assumed for itself. Above all, the conferees voiced their dismay that Indian tribes and communities are losing control, away from the public eye, without fighting back.

Get the Story:
Michael Gross: New Battle in Turf War Over Native Education (Indian Country Today 9/5)

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Blog: Questions about Bureau of Indian Education reform plans (06/27)
Secretary Jewell announces Bureau of Indian Education reform (06/16)

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