Thursday, November 27, 2008

Native American Heritage Day To Highlight Abysmal Plight

Native American Heritage Month

By: Julian Wolfson

Reprinted From The Civil Rights Coalition

November is Native American Heritage Month, a month dedicated to recognizing the culture and traditions of Native Americans, as well as their contributions to the U.S.

One of the most significant days this month will be the celebration of the first national annual Native American Heritage Day on November 28, which was created when Congress passed a resolution on January 3, 2008.

While this month is intended to commemorate the achievements of Native Americans, it also provides an opportunity to reflect upon many of the issues that are important to the Native American community.

One of the biggest concerns for Native Americans is education. As reported by the National Center for Education Statistics, 15.1 percent of Native Americans ages 16-24 years old were high school dropouts in 2006. This stands in stark contrast to the national high school dropout rate of 9.7 percent.

In addition, the National Association of Education Progress (NAEP) reported that 83 percent of Native American 8th graders read below grade level in 2007, as compared to 61 percent of Whites.

Native Americans have long had challenges in education due to their unique status in the U.S. Until 1926, American Indian education focused on the assimilation of Native Americans into western culture. Native Americans were forced to abandon their cultural traditions and embrace the value system of European settlers. The languages, history, and culture of Native Americans were systematically removed from their educational curriculum.

Attempts to assimilate Native Americans were coupled with efforts to isolate them. Isolation was primarily achieved through the development of off-reservation boarding schools, which Native American children were required to attend.

The objective of these schools was to remove American Indians from their native environments in attempt to further their assimilation. The schools were often far away from reservations, so children had little contact with their families.

These policies had severe consequences on the educational opportunities available to Native Americans. In 1928, a report entitled "The Problem of Indian Administration," (often referred to as the Meriam Report) highlighted many of the problems with federal policies toward Native Americans that continue today, including education.

The report was commissioned by the secretary of interior and drew upon the findings of a two year study by the Institute of Government Research, which examined the socio-economic conditions of Native Americans.

The report states:

The most fundamental need in Indian education is a change in point of view. Whatever may have been the official governmental attitude, education for the Indian in the past has proceeded largely on the theory that it is necessary to remove the Indian child as far as possible from his home environment; whereas the modem point of view in education and social work lays stress on upbringing in the natural setting of home and family life.

Today, the Native American community continues to struggle for influence over their education. Currently, education advocacy groups representing Native Americans like the National Indian Education Association, are pushing Congress to ensure that the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) increases opportunities for joint efforts among tribes, states, and the federal government to determine standards of accountability for Native American students.

In its call to the Native American tribes to develop a strategy for the presidential transition, the National Congress of American Indians said: "Indian education and job training should become a model for preparing our children and our workers to compete in the global economy while also respecting the values of local communities."

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