Native Sun News: NIEA wraps up annual meet in South Dakota

The following story was written and reported by Karin Eagle, Native Sun News Staff Writer. All content © Native Sun News.

Pamela Agoyo, Ohkay Owingeh, Cochiti, and Kewa Pueblos, has the honor of being the first Pueblo woman to be elected as NIEA President. Here Agoyo addresses the 2013 NIEA Convention in Rapid City, following her swearing in.

Rapid City hosts NIEA
New board sworn in
By Karin Eagle
Native Sun News Staff Writer

RAPID CITY- Rosemary Christensen remembers organizing what would later become the National Conference on Indian Education.

As part of her work at the Midwest Regional Educational Laboratory (UMREL) in Minneapolis, MN, Christensen’s job was to pull together educators and administrators from the greater Minneapolis area assisted by the planning committee.

“That first meeting, we expected maybe two or three hundred people to show up,” recounts Christensen, “We ended up with over a thousand.”

That meeting in 1969 led to the incorporation of The National Indian Education Association (NIEA) on August 21, 1970 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The original signatures of the incorporation papers were of Rosemary Christensen, Elgie Raymond and Will Antell.

Since that time, those involved in Indian Education have come together every year across the country to discuss the issues that face the Native population in education.

2013 saw the return of the NIEA convention to the sacred Black Hills. Rapid City saw several thousand educators, administrators, parents of students and students themselves pour into the city for the 44th Annual NIEA convention.

The theme for this year’s convention was “Building Education, Nations and Communities”. In expounding upon that theme, the conferences that were held throughout the three days, alongside the discussion panels hit upon several aspects, including the urban native population’s needs, language immersion, and working with the effects of the recent government sequestration.

Each day was led off with a General Assembly, featuring keynote speakers who were invited to speak to the conventioneers, many of whom had traveled across the country, and in fact, across the ocean, to attend.

Jefferson Keel, lieutenant governor of the Chickasaw Nation, and President of the National Congress of American Indians, began the conference as the first keynote speaker. Keel is a retired US Army officer with over 20 years active duty service. His service included combat duty as an Infantryman in Vietnam where he earned numerous awards and decorations including two awards of the Bronze Star with "V” device for valor, and two awards of the Purple Heart. Lt. Governor Keel has a Masters Degree from Troy State University.

On Friday, the keynote address was given by David Coleman, President and CEO of The College Board. Colman attended public school in New York City before enrolling at Yale University. At Yale, he taught reading to high school students from low-income families and started Branch, an innovative community service program for inner-city students in New Haven, Conn.

Based on the success of Branch, David received a Rhodes scholarship, which he used to study English literature at the University of Oxford and classical educational philosophy at the University of Cambridge in the U.K.

He returned to the U.S. to work at McKinsey & Company for five years, where he led much of the firm’s pro bono work in education.

David was named to the 2013 Time 100, the magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. He has been recognized as one of Time magazine’s "11 Education Activists for 2011” and was one of the NewSchools Venture Fund Change Agents of the Year for 2012. For the closing General Assembly, Oglala Lakota Cecilia Fire Thunder was asked to address the convention. Fire Thunder attended Holy Rosary Mission until 10th grade, ultimately moving to Los Angeles in 1963 under the U.S. Relocation Program.

She passed her state boards in 1973, becoming a licensed nurse. She then helped found the American Indian Free Clinic in 1975, which provided basic health and dental care for American Indians living in Los Angeles County.

In 1977, she moved to San Diego for college and focused her work in the American Indian Health Center. In 1986, Fire Thunder returned home to work at the Bennett County Hospital, and soon after created the Oglala Lakota Women’s Society to address domestic and child abuse. She is also credited for helping the Oglala Sioux Tribe became the first to pass a comprehensive law to address domestic violence in 1989.

In 2003, Cecilia successfully ran for president – becoming the first female President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. She was impeached the next year for her strong stand on women’s rights.

Following the keynote address by Fire Thunder, the outgoing NIEA President, Dr. Heather Shotton addressed the convention for the final time. An Assistant Professor of Native American Studies at University of Oklahoma, Dr. Shotton is a member of the Wichita, Kiowa, and Cheyenne tribes. Elected to the board two years ago, Dr. Shotton previously served as NIEA's President-Elect.

Following her remarks, Shotton called the newly elected NIEA board members to the stage to be sworn in. The newly elected members include an Oglala Lakota man, Ryan Wilson.

Wilson is a member of the Oglala band of the Tituwan Oceti Sakowin, and is from the Wilson Tiospaye. Wilson is the grandson of the late George Wilson, Sr. a WWII Veteran and the late Mary Dixon. His mother is the late Roberta Wilson.

Wilson was elected vice-president of the National Indian Education Association in 2000. In 2005 he was elected president and after another election to the NIEA board in 2008 he retired from the board in 2010.

In 2005, Wilson launched the NIEA Native Language Revitalization Initiative within one year of starting this initiative NIEA successfully secured passage of the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act.

Through the Administration for Native Americans, the Esther Martinez Act has created greater funding opportunities for language revitalization efforts. Native language funding has accelerated from an average of 1.5 million annually to over 12 million annually as a result of NIEA leadership on this issue.

As president of NIEA, Ryan presented the inaugural State of Indian Education Address. This speech, which was nationally broadcasted on C-Span, brought attention to the needs of Indian education and the conditions of Native children and youth. The speech was widely viewed by members of Congress and staff and contributed greatly to broad based support for culturally based education and continued funding levels for Indian education in the poisonous atmosphere of intense budget cuts.

Also in 2005 Ryan founded the National Indian Education Association Tribal Leaders Education Task Force, codifying for the first time a permanent venue for tribal leaders to advance the Indian education agenda.

Following the swearing in of the new NIEA Board members, Dr. Shotton called forth Pamela Agoyo. Agoyo, who is Ohkay Owingeh, Cochiti, and Kewa Pueblos, has the honor of being the first Pueblo woman to be elected as NIEA President.

Agoyo’s 25-year professional career has focused primarily in the areas of Student Affairs & Student Development. She has served the University of New Mexico in a number of capacities including Director of Student Union Recreational Services; Recruitment Specialist for the Office of Admissions & Outreach Services; Director of Minority Recruitment & Retention; and Scholarship Outreach Coordinator for the Office of Financial Aid & Scholarships.

For the past decade, Agoyo’s primary area of focus and dedication has centered on developing and providing student support services that promote academic access and success for American Indian students.

She earned a BA in Psychology, a BA in Sociology, and a MA in Organizational Learning & Instructional Technology from UNM.

The 2013 NIEA Convention was concluded with a ceremonial passing of an eagle feather staff and a paddle, representing the Northwestern and Polynesian tribes represented at NIEA, from the local planning committee, led by Chris Bordeaux and Susan White Lance, to the new planning committee. The new committee in turn, offered their invitation to the 2014 NIEA convention to be held in Anchorage, Alaska.

(Contact Karin Eagle at

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