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Lakota Country Times: Great Plains tribes blast changes at BIE

The following story was written and reported by Brandon Ecoffey, Lakota Country Times editor. For more news, subscribe to the Lakota Country Times today. All content © Lakota Country Times.

Tribal leaders from across the great plains convened at a government to government consultation with Bureau of Indian Education to express their displeasure with some proposed changes to the organizational structure of the organization. Photo by Brandon Ecoffey

Great plains tribes slam BIE changes
Loss of local control a major sticking point
By Brandon Ecoffey
Lakota Country Times editor

RAPID CITY—Last week when representatives of the Department of Interior and the Bureau of Indian Education showed up in Rapid City to conduct a consultation with area tribes on its proposed reorganization, they were met with robust and unified resistance from tribal leaders across the Great Plains region.

“We dispute that this is a true consultation,” said Oglala Sioux Tribal councilman C.J. Clifford. Clifford noted that nearly half of the tribal grant-contract schools are in North and South Dakota and he felt that, “For far too long the Department of Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Bureau of Indian Education have ignored the voices of these tribal schools.”

The first term representative from Wounded Knee district joined a chorus of tribal leaders at the Ramkota Inn in Rapid City last week to state their displeasure with several proposed changes to the organizational structure of the BIE.

In attendance at the meeting were representatives from the Oglala Sioux Tribe, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Cheyenne River and others. These tribal officials were joined by educators, community advocates and tribal citizens to offer testimony on their view of the proposed changes.

In 2013, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell along with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan put together a study group intended to identify the shortcomings of the BIE’s administrative structure and to develop a plan to reform the bureaucracy in order to “ensure all students attending BIE-funded schools receive a world-class education.”

After several listening sessions with Native American education stakeholders the study group produced a Blueprint for Reform that was released last June. From that document came Secretarial order 3334 issued by Secretary Jewell to reorganize the BIE in a way that federal reps say will “redesign the BIE from a direct provider of education into an innovative organization that will serve as a capacity-builder to tribes with BIE-funded schools.”

As part of the realignment the BIE will create several high paying positions in Washington D.C. and other urban areas while eliminating the offices of 22 existing Education Line Offices and replacing them with multiple Education Resource Centers. The consolidation is in theory supposed to ensure that the BIE will be more efficient in serving the needs of students and tribes but this proposed change was met with resistance from tribal leaders who felt that this would remove local influence and control.

Cheyenne River Sioux Chairman Harold Frazier stated during the consultation that he had problems with the BIE directing resources to new highly paid positions in urban areas, while local schools wait for the BIE to fully staff tribal schools.

Tribes in the area successfully challenged similar changes in federal court in past years and Clifford said that this option was still on the table.

For many years local educators have stated that it the problem with education in Indian Country has to do with the failure of the federal government to provide adequate funding to tribal schools.

“It’s a funding issue and it is a lack of resource issue,” said one tribal educator who asked to remain anonymous. “The needs of the students are not being met because we do not have the staff or resources to provide them with everything they need.”

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