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President Barack Obama signs order to improve Native American education

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Barack Obama announced his signing of an executive order to improve education for American Indians at the third White House Tribal Nations Conference on Dec. 2.

When announced, Obama received praise and massive applause from the hundreds of Tribal leaders in attendance.

“We’re going to find ways to reduce the dropout rate,” Obama said in his speech. “We’re going to help students who’ve already dropped out re-enter the education system. And we’re going to strengthen our tribal colleges and universities. They are cornerstones of their community and they deserve our support.

The order, titled “Improving American Indian and Alaska Native Education Opportunities and Strengthening Tribal Colleges and Universities,” aims to improve educational opportunities and performance through funding and various programs for Native American and Alaska Native students from early education through college.

It has been a constant uphill battle for Native Americans to secure recognition and help when it comes to education. The Seminole Tribe’s own Director of Education Emma Johns has been a part of the fight, making trips to Washington, D.C., among other cities, to voice her opinion along with the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s concerns.

“For many years, we have seen candidates and president elects use our communities as part of their political platforms and fall short on the follow through,” Johns said. “Though it has not been an easy battle, it is one that our Native brothers and sisters have refused to give up. Each year Native Americans gather together in Washington, D.C. during Native American Impact week to fight…I have been a part of this lobbying effort many times and see first hand what other tribes deal with from 60-mile dirt road bus roads to minimal, if any, modern infrastructure in their communities.”

Recent studies have shown that American Indians and Alaskan Natives are dropping out of school at an alarming rate.

The executive order signed by the president states: “It is the policy of my Administration to support activities that will strengthen the Nation by expanding educational opportunities and improving educational outcomes for all AI/AN (American Indian and Alaska Native) students in order to fulfill our commitment to furthering tribal self-determination and to help ensure that AI/AN students have an opportunity to learn their Native languages and histories and receive complete and competitive educations that prepare them for college, careers, and productive and satisfying lives.”

Johns expressed strong support for the order; she has high hopes for what it could do for the Tribe.

“For our students and any Native that attends a Tribal College, my hope is that this will only provide them with higher quality facilities, academics, extracurricular programs and cultural relevant activities,” Johns said. “It is about time that Native Americans and their educational needs are being addressed.”

The Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education Arne Duncan and the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior Kenneth L. Salazar will co-chair the initiative.

“It is comforting to see the current administration finally taking this initiative,” Johns said. “Any initiative taken towards promoting and funding educational excellence in Indian Country is a blessing.”

The administration is determined to put a strong focus on secondary education, including Tribal colleges, universities and technical schools. Their goal is to keep Native Indians and Alaska Natives in school to further their education and prepare for their future, no matter what social or economic background they come from.

“TCUs (Tribal Colleges and Universities) maintain, preserve, and restore Native languages and cultural traditions; offer a high-quality college education; provide career and technical education, job training, and other career-building programs; and often serve as anchors in some of the country’s poorest and most remote areas.”

There are more than 30 Tribal colleges and universities with more than 30,000 students representing more than 250 tribes from across the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

Most Tribal schools are located on Indian reservations where native culture is infused in the curriculum. Most Tribal colleges receive no Indian casino revenue, making an executive order such as this one all that more important and beneficial.

“As stated before, it has been a fight to hold on to funding for all Native programs from head start to the collegiate level,” Johns said. “This order impacts us directly, as Native people are all one people and must continue to work in a unified effort to demand equal opportunity for the education of our students from head start to the post graduate level.”

“This executive order is proof that perseverance is key in all that we do,” Johns said. “This is due to the Indian activists that persevered and wouldn’t accept the status quo for our Native children.”

Assuring the Tribal leaders and other American Indians and Alaskan Natives present, President Obama concluded with “you have a President that’s got your back.”


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