Students from the Quileute Tribal School in Washington. Photo: NOAA Fisheries West Coast

Bureau of Indian Affairs awards contracts for new tribal schools

Two tribal communities will be getting new schools thanks to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Tara Sweeney, the recently-installed Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, announced contracts worth $74.2 million for the new institutions. The Blackwater Community School in Arizona will see $30.1 million dollars while the Quileute Tribal School in Washington will see $44.1 million.

“Today is a great day for Native education at Indian Affairs,” Sweeney said in a press release on Tuesday. “I am excited for the next phase of this process to initiate for these schools. I appreciate everyone involved with these projects from Indian Affairs, Bureau of Indian Education, the schools, and tribal communities for their dedication to take these schools from an idea to the world-class buildings that they will become.”

The Blackwater Community School, located on the Gila River Indian Community, has been in operation since 1939. The tribe will be constructing a new, 84,577 square-foot facility in two phases.

The Quileute Tribal School serves students from the Quileute Tribe. The existing facility, which is located in a tsunami, earthquake and flood zone along the Pacific Coast, will be replaced by a 60,950 square-foot building on higher grounds.

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“A school’s environment is as important as the lessons taught in the classroom,” Tony Dearman, the director of the Bureau of Indian Education, said on Tuesday. “We are proud to work with Indian Affairs to build a new school where we can deliver excellent in-classroom instruction on the first day it opens its doors.”

New school construction was once a regular activity for the BIA until the George W. Bush era, when funding came to a halt amid concerns about cost. As a result, Indian Country's school construction priority list was frozen in time in 2004.

But the Obama administration and bipartisan members of Congress revived the process with a funding bill three years ago. The following year, the BIA published a new replacement school list with 10 facilities, including Blackwater and Quileute.

Of the 10 on the list, the Laguna Elementary School in New Mexico was the first to receive funding. A $26.2 million contract was awarded in May.

“The Pueblo of Laguna is realizing a dream come true with the award to replace the previously condemned Laguna Elementary School,” said Pueblo of Laguna Governor Virgil Siow said at the time.

The Dzilth-Na-O-Dith-Hle Community School, located on the New Mexico portion of the Navajo Nation, is expected to receive funds in the coming weeks, the BIA said on Tuesday.

Separately, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe secured an $11.9 million appropriation through Congress to build a new Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig High School in Minnesota. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke helped open the facility this summer.

“The Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig school project between the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the tribe is a great example of what is possible when we work together in consultation with tribes,” Zinke said at the July 30 dedication ceremony. “All Native American kids deserve a world-class education. 48,000 American Indian students and their families count on the Department of the Interior to deliver this kind of experience at school, and we'll do everything we can to help give them world-class facilities."

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