by Matt Laslo
(WASHINGTON, D.C.) Some Native leaders are voicing concerns over the potential direction of federal education policy and other implications of President Donald Trump’s cabinet picks.
Only a small percentage of Native American children go to tribal schools. The majority attend public schools. That has many native leaders worried that the new Dept. of Education secretary, Betsy DeVos, has been a big proponent of school choice and charter schools.
“I’m just concerned with some of her past positions on privatization. The majority of our native children are in public schools – we have like 6% in Indian schools. So I want to educate her on the unique needs in Indian Country,” said Patricia Whitefoot is the former president of the National Indian Education Association, who was in Washington, D.C. for the annual State of the Indian Nations Address.
Whitefoot is not alone.
“We are worried about that – not only public schools but Indian schools. I don’t know that she has enough experience in that or even interest in that so that does worry us,” said Teri Pepper, tribal council secretary of the Kaw Nation of Oklahoma. She says a lot of members from her tribe go to school in nearby Lawrence Kansas, which she hopes DeVos will come and visit to gain firsthand knowledge.
“It’s deplorable conditions. It would be wonderful if she could come there. Both my parents went there and a lot of proud people went there. Changes need to be made in Indian education,” she said.
It’s not just fear over the new Education secretary. Pepper says she’s also bracing for a potential shakeup at the Department of Justice now that Jeff Sessions is Attorney General. Pepper notes he’s been accused of racism in his past and he’s voted against the Violence Against Women Act.
“I worry about his bigotry. That’s one of my fears, not only towards African Americans but Native Americans, and with women. I don’t want to take steps back, not only as women but as Native Americans,” she said.
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By Nicky Ouellet
Just a month after losing her hard-fought congressional bid, Montana’s Denise Juneau is looking to turn defeat into a new opportunity. She’d hoped to be the first Native American in Congress. Now, Juneau confirms she’s interested in the top post at the University of Montana.
“I think I have a great record, and I am interested in the position,” Juneau said. “It is something I’ll be looking really closely at and if the answer was today it’d be yeah, I’m going to apply for the UM presidency.”
The current president, Royce Engstrom, made the surprise announcement this month that he’s stepping down. The university has endured declining enrollment and a wave of sexual assault reports.
Juneau’s tenure as Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction ends in January and she doesn’t have any solid plans for what comes after that. “I look forward to a little time off to readjust the sails and think about what it is I want to do and accomplish,” she said.
During her campaign, Juneau paid special attention to voters on Montana’s seven reservations – she’s Mandan and Hidatsa and grew up in Browning on the Blackfeet Reservation. Many pollsters and analysists expected her background to draw out the Native Vote, but it didn’t. Get-out-the-vote groups estimate Native American voter turnout in Montana at 59 percent. Montana’s overall rate was 74 percent.
Juneau says the loss stings, but she did everything she was supposed to.
“We just lost,” Juneau said. “People believed in this race, they believed in my candidacy and you can’t ask for more than that.”