Agency abruptly changes course on Navajo schooling
Parents with students attending the BIE-operated Tuba City Boarding School received a letter Sept. 10 from the Bureau of Indian Education indicating that “instructional resources (backpacks) will be delivered for each student via bus route. Teachers/learning coaches will make phone contact with students to provide instructional direction regarding materials in the backpacks and information about the upcoming school year.” The letter goes on to explain that one computer device, iPad or laptop per household will be assigned, and students will need to share. Several Navajo educators who spoke on condition of anonymity since they were not authorized to speak publicly verified that the more than 30 BIE-operated schools on the Navajo reservation will now offer distance learning. Some voiced concern about the lack of computers and were clearly scrambling to find enough devices to go around. As the change in BIE policy was unfolding, the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States held a remote oversight hearing Sept. 10 entitled, “Examining the Bureau of Indian Education’s school reopening guidance during the Covid-19 pandemic.” Officials and tribal leaders lambasted the BIE for a plan that seemed to disregard tribes’ wishes and sovereignty.
Bureau of Indian Affairs agrees to start the school year using online instruction for the safety of students and teachers pic.twitter.com/fDLzAfZDI1— Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez (@NNPrezNez) September 14, 2020
Democratic U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona, chair of the subcommittee, opened the meeting by criticizing the BIE’s failure to participate in the hearing. “I would like to voice my disappointment in the BIE for choosing not to testify today. While this committee has often struggled with this administration’s failure to provide timely and informed testimony, the BIE’s refusal to be here today is a new low,” Gallego said. He described the agency’s refusal to attend the meeting because it was held remotely as a dereliction of the federal trust responsibility with tribes. Joe Garcia, Ohkay Owingeh, co-chair of the education subcommittee of the National Congress of American Indians’ Tribal/Interior Budget Council, said the BIE has a long history of failing to communicate and work with tribal nations, parents and its own employees. Garcia cited the agency’s refusal to honor the Navajo Nation’s wishes to hold remote education as a prime example. “If the BIE won’t respond to the Navajo, the biggest Indian nation in the country, how in the world can we expect them to talk to leaders of smaller tribes?” Garcia said.
BIE, through its School Reopening Task Force, gathered tribal consultation comments and stakeholder survey responses to inform the Plan. For a full list and breakdown of our 6 goals visit: https://t.co/Z7ClbaQoZx #returntolearn #returntolearnbie pic.twitter.com/icEEbScuT5— BureauIndianEdu (@BureauIndianEdu) September 1, 2020
ICYMI: Today I held a hearing with Tribal leaders and BIE teachers on how to start the school year safely in a pandemic. We cannot take chances with the health & education of Native children.— Ruben Gallego (@RepRubenGallego) September 10, 2020
Watch here⬇️ https://t.co/eKawo5wOjk
Mary Annette Pember, a citizen of the Red Cliff Ojibwe tribe, is a national correspondent for Indian Country Today.
Note: This story originally appeared on Indian Country Today on September 11, 2020.
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