Aaron Payment
Aaron Payment serves as Chairperson of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, a tribal nation based in Michigan. He also serves as Secretary of the National Congress of American Indians. Photo by Kevin Abourezk
Executive Order on the White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity for Native Americans…is HUGE!
Friday, October 15, 2021

SAULT STE. MARIE TRIBE RESERVATION, Michigan — This past week was significant with the first Presidential Proclamation establishing Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Monday, October 11, 2021.

This news unfortunately eclipsed another major policy announcement by President Joe Biden in the form of an Executive Order on Indian Education which is framed as follows:

It is the policy of my Administration to advance equity, excellence, and justice in our Nation’s education system and to further Tribal self-governance, including by supporting activities that expand educational opportunities and improve educational outcomes for all Native American students.

As a policy-wonk, I recognize that EOs are a big deal; not just an expression of values, but in a recommitment to Indian Education and a detailed substantive plan. Key to the sustainability is President Biden’s commitment to engaging Indian Country like never before through Consultation to guide strategic planning and implementation.

The following illustrates this:

Sec 2 (b) The Initiative shall consult and collaborate with Tribal Nations; Alaska Native Entities; TCUs; and State, Tribal, and local educational departments and agencies to advance educational equity, excellence, and economic opportunity for Native Americans by focusing on the following policy goals…

The placement of this initiative in the US Department of Education is appropriate given 93% of American Indian K-12 aged students attend public schools while 7% attend Bureau of Indian Education funded schools under the US Department of Interior. As such, President Biden established that the, “Secretary of Education, the Secretary of the Interior, and the Secretary of Labor shall serve as Co-Chairs” of White House Initiative to oversee these efforts.

As a Member of the National Advisory Council on Indian Education (NACIE), I recognize the respectful commitment to engaging in direct Consultation with tribes but also with advisory input and collaboration from American Indian Education professionals who serve on NACIE through the following:

[NACIE] shall serve as the advisory council for the Initiative and shall report to the Initiative, through and as requested by the Executive Director.

There is much work to do to improve the Native American high school graduation rate (the worst of all racial ethnic groups) improvement in academic assessment scores, preparedness for college or vocal training, and increase entry into higher education as Native American students experienced the greatest decline in undergraduate enrollment in higher education from 2020 to 2021. With Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland’s focus on reconciliation from past Federal Indian Boarding School Assimilation Policy, an additional need to infuse accurate and age appropriate American Indian History and contributions across curricula, is emphasized.

As a high school dropout at 15 from a low-income rural reservation slum, who went on to earn a doctorate in education, I recognize no one does it alone and that given the right opportunity, everyone can succeed. I am grateful for President Biden’s recognition of Tribal Nations as having a unique Constitutionally established treaty and trust obligation to an Education and for making such a clear policy statement in this EO to fulfill this right.


A high school dropout at 15, Chairperson Aaron Payment, earned a GED at 16 and now holds a doctorate in education, and masters’ degrees in education specialist, education administration, and public administration. He serves as the Secretary of the National Congress of American Indians, in a Presidential Appointment on the National Advisory Council on Indian Education and served in a Presidential Appointment on the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act Negotiated Rule Making Team. Dr. Payment is a former University Faculty who taught Political Science and Native American Studies and coordinated Native student retention at three universities in Michigan.