Native Village Youth and Education News
February 1, 2009 Issue 194 Volume 3


Black Hills educator meets with President-elect Obama’s staff

Robert Cook

Robert Cook seeks to advance cause of Native education
By Vicky Wicks
Condensed by Gina Boltz, Director, Native Village Publications

Washington D.C.: Black Hills educator Robert Cook is president of the National Indian Education Association (NIEA). In December, he met with President-elect Barack Obama’s education team to lay out a course for American Indian education in the new administration.

Cook said the first priority is to elevate the federal Indian Education director to assistant secretary within the U.S. Department of Education. “We felt that we needed somebody that has a direct voice to the secretary of education, somebody that can hear the voices and the concerns of Indian Country and be an advocate directly to the people who are going to make policy and change,” Cook said.

He also wants the BIA more involved with the department of education because 93% of America's 600,000 Native students  Indian students attend public schools. Funding increases are critical are needed for Indian education to offer culturally relevant, quality studies.

Cook wants a Native American education budget task force formed. This task force would bring together native educators and tribal leaders to decide funding needs for crucial improvements such as school construction and transportation. School buildings need particular attention. “There’s about a $600,000,000 backlog in Indian school construction and maintenance, and each year that figure continues to grow by another $55,000,000," Cook said.  “We need the Congress to understand that we need our schools fixed. We need them updated. We need technology so our kids can be able to compete, not only in communities but in the global world today.”

And tribal colleges, where Indian teachers are trained, are operating with far less government help than other institutions of higher learning.  “Right now we have 37 tribal colleges throughout Indian country surviving on a budget of $55,000,000 a year,” Cook said. “You look at colleges throughout the country, and that’s probably less than what their athletic budget is.”  Cook said tribal colleges should be forward-funded because current funding doesn’t always arrive before the academic year begins.  Schools start off in the hole.

Cook said the federal government should also recruit more American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians into teaching and school leadership.

Cook told Obama's team that her and fellow educators  want an Indian education executive  similar to one Clinton issued in 1998. That order promoted agencies working together, research-based practices, using native language instruction and culturally based education in public and federally funded schools.

It was also suggested that Obama convene a White House conference to address the needs of Native students.

Cook came away from the meeting feeling optimistic.  “It was really refreshing and energetic to know that they did have a strong listening ear, and so we’re going to continue to hold them at task and make sure that our treaty obligations are protected and that our kids are provided a quality education,” he said.

National Indian Education Association:

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