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More than 100 descend on D.C. to push Native education

The ultimate goal is to bolster the health of education for Native students across the country, and stakeholders say big steps are underway.

The National Indian Education Association hosted its “NIEA Hill Day” events Feb. 12 through Feb. 14 in Washington, D.C. More than 100 tribal leaders, educators and students attended.

The ambitious three-day agenda placed attendees in sessions that immersed them in key issues in Native education. They were also trained in advocacy work, to better navigate the often rough waters in the halls of Capitol Hill.

Engagement with congressional leaders and their staffers was front and center on the first day of activities. High profile politicians who met with attendees included Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-NM, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, Rep. Debra Haaland, D-NM, and Rep. Betty McCollum, D-MN.

Organizers admitted that the ground to cover under its three ambitious headings was immense: advocacy, appropriations and legislative authorization.

But the training sessions and panel discussions, including one-on-ones with elected representatives and their staffs, made the task less daunting.

Attendees took advantage of the unique access to advocate for key policy priorities that impact Native students.

Those priorities include critical funding for school construction in Native communities; passage of the Esther Martinez Native Languages Programs Reauthorization Act (which funds immersion programs); provisions that support Native students and schools in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act; and an overall push for full funding of federal programs that support Native students in fiscal year 2020.

Attendees were provided with talking points to help them along the way. It helped direct them to interact with lawmakers about funding priorities, including:

• $198 million for the Indian Education Formula.

• $430 million in construction for Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools.

• $500 million in construction for public schools that serve Native students.

BIE funded schools serve 48,000 Native students in primarily rural and reservation areas.

Florida has two BIE funded schools – Ahfachkee School on the Big Cypress Reservation and the Miccosukee Indian School west of Miami.

“Thank you to each of our members and to our attendees. Your engagement created an opportunity for community-created change and elevated Native voices for education in the heart of national politics,” organizers said in a statement on the final day.

A panel of congressional staffers met to talk to attendees during NIEA’s Hill Day events. From left are Mary Nguyen Barry – policy adviser for the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions in Sen. Patty Murray’s office (D-WA); Kim Moxley – policy adviser for the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs with Sen. Tom Udall’s office (D-NM); Naomi Miguel – professional staff for the House Committee for Natural Resources in Rep. Raul Grijalva’s office (D-AZ); Jake Middlebrooks – professional staff for the House Committee on Education and Labor in Rep. Virginia Foxx’s, office (R-NC); and Loredana Valtierra – policy director for the House Committee on Education and Labor in Rep. Bobby Scott’s office (D-VA). (Courtesy photo)
The NIEA board from left are Darrick Franklin, parliamentarian; Marita Hinds, president-elect; Michael Vendiola, vice president; Savannah Romero, student board member; and Robin Butterfield, president (in background). (Courtesy Photo)
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Damon Scott
Damon is a staff reporter for The Seminole Tribune. Prior to moving to Florida, he was a reporter and editor for print and digital publications in his home state of New Mexico. When Damon’s not working on a story, you’ll probably find him at a hot yoga class or splashing around on some South Florida beach. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.

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