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Education
New Mexico tribes fight BIA's education reorganization


More tribes are joining the fight against the reorganization of education programs at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

A federal judge has already stopped the Bush administration from making changes at BIA schools in South Dakota and North Dakota. Four tribes and seven schools filed a lawsuit after learning that some of the education offices on their reservations would be closed and that some reservation-based employees would be fired or relocated.

Now, the 19 Pueblos of New Mexico are hoping to replicate the case. They filed a lawsuit two weeks ago, citing a lack of meaningful consultation about the effect of the reorganization on 15 educational institutions, including the Santa Fe Indian School, an urban boarding school.

"Under federal law, consultation is not a one-way presentation of unilateral decisions," the August 17 filing states.

Funding is at the heart of the tribal lawsuits. The BIA budget has largely stayed the same since the start of the Bush administration despite heavier demands placed on schools under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

So when the reorganization initiative was first announced back in 2003, there were immediate questions about resources. "Tribal officials and representatives were told that the funds for any reorganization would be sought from Congress," the Pueblos stated in their lawsuit.

But tribes now know that the administration is taking $1.5 million from the Indian School Equalization Program to pay for the bureaucratic reshuffle. ISEP is used to help at-risk Indian students, the types who might be underperforming under No Child Left Behind standards.

Additionally, the administration wants to take $2.5 million from the Early Childhood Development Program to pay for the reorganization. Former Interior Secretary Gale Norton had praised the program in a visit to New Mexico back in May 2002.

In both instances, the Pueblos say they learned of the shift in funds only after the Plains tribes filed their lawsuit in May. As a result, some Pueblo school programs have already been cut, according to the court filing.

The BIA budget does call for $2.5 million in new funds, but the 19 Pueblos say the money will be used for administrative positions and not to improve the education of Indian students.

Along with the funding cuts, the BIA already started the reorganization in early August, just a few weeks before the start of the school year. The tribes say Tom Dowd, a member of the Hopi Tribe from Arizona, had promised not to make any changes until August 16, the day before the lawsuit was filed.

Nedra Darling, a spokesperson for the BIA, didn't have specific information about the implementation of the reorganization in New Mexico. But she said the agency is complying with the preliminary injunction in South Dakota and North Dakota.

"They are closely following the judge's orders," she said of BIA officials in the Plains.

The reorganization has been questioned by several key members of Congress "I'm a little bit perplexed when I hear that what we need to fix this system is more senior executive management staffing," said Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota), the vice chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, at a hearing in May.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council, which represents the eight Pueblos north of Santa Fe, and the All Indian Pueblos Council, which represents all 19 Pueblos in the state. Joe Garcia, the president of the National Congress of American Indians, serves as chairman of ENIPC.

Plains Court Decision:
Yankton Sioux Tribe v. Kempthorne (July 14, 2006)

Senate Hearing Documents/Info:
Oversight Hearing on Indian Education (May 25, 2006)

Relevant Links:
Office of Indian Education Programs, BIA - http://www.oiep.bia.edu
Office of Indian Education Programs Human Resources Services - http://www.oiephr.bia.edu