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Old 07-29-2005, 09:27 PM   #1
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Deloria: Accountability and Sovereignty in American Indian Education

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Deloria: Accountability and Sovereignty in American Indian Education

(javascript:PrintWindow();) Posted: July 28, 2005 by: _Vine Deloria Jr._
In the 1830s, after being expelled from the southeastern United States,
the Five Civilized Tribes established an educational system that was the envy
of every civilized state. School systems of the Five Civilized Tribes
demanded accountability from students, teachers, parents and tribal educational

Before becoming a student, the youngster was informed that the nations were
going to invest some of their funds in his or her education and that the
student was expected to do his or her best in mastering the curricula the schools
offered. To ensure that everyone did their part, the nations established a
celebration at the end of the school year. Parents came to the school and
camped so they could participate in the doings. Teachers were evaluated before
they could be hired for the next year. Students wrote compositions that they
read and debated in front of tribal officials, relatives and the public.

The tribal schools offered a basic education in English, literature,
language, mathematics, foreign language and citizenship. Academies for boys and
girls capable of doing advanced work were established. At the end of the spring
term families and tribal officials were invited to the schools, where students
recited the lessons they had learned.

When the governments of the nations were legislated out of existence, the
Five Civilized Tribes had produced more college graduates than the state of
Texas did - a record that might still be favorably compared today on a per
capita basis.

Today we have immense problems in education, but we do not have the
commitments from the colleges and universities, tribal governments or students. We do
not ask anyone to demonstrate what they have learned and we are content to
continue spending money to send students to college without asking whether
they are actually being educated; we ask only that they continue in college.

Colleges and universities feel no responsibility to ensure that our students
succeed or graduate. Tribal governments do not feel the need to demand
progress reports from these institutions. Students feel lucky to be in college and
have little contact with tribal education committees.

If we continue to fail to come to grips with the question of accountability
in education, we become simply another donor or parent in the eyes of the
educational institution. The responsibility for success is placed wholly on the
student; and when the individual fails, we tend to place the blame wholly on
the student, thereby allowing the tribe and institutions to escape
responsibility. People forget that scholarships given by tribes and contributions to
colleges by tribes are the acts of sovereign nations.

We should not be standing hat in hand, begging to send our children to an
institution. We should be awaiting well-prepared proposals submitted from
colleges and universities describing what they can do for our students. We have
the power to negotiate with any entity to ensure the proper benefits for our
tribal members - and we should be doing that regularly.

Do we have any idea which colleges and universities are providing a good
education for our students? Do we have any figures on the track record of these
institutions? I know that the University of New Mexico, the University of
Arizona and Arizona State have reported large numbers of Indian students for
decades; but of these vast numbers, how many Indian students actually
graduated? Arizona State has had master's and doctorate in education degree programs
for 40 years or better, but how many Indian students have actually finished
these degrees at that institution? I would venture to guess that the record is
disastrous and embarrassing.

What do tribes expect when they grant scholarships to students? Or, more
importantly for the California tribes: After giving these large grants to the
California institutions, to whom do they report and what do they report? To
whom is the student or institution responsible? When a college or university
recruits an Indian student, does it accrue responsibility for monitoring that
student's progress? Many federal special services grants are based upon the
number of students to be served. When a census is taken of Indian students on
campus, do the figures reflect the number entering in the fall or the number
of students still in school at the end of the spring term? How inflated are
any of the numbers of students the colleges and universities report?

Today some tribes are making major contributions to colleges and
universities with the expectation that they will provide special services to the Indian
students and the tribes. But how are these responsibilities fulfilled? The
University of California at Riverside once had an endowed chair named after
Rupert Costo given to support an Indian scholar. A non-Indian presently sits in
that chair. Was it impossible for the university to recruit an Indian
scholar; did it even try to find one? In the last several years, Indian faculty at
several California universities have been pushed out the door. How does it
affect the Indian students who now must take Indian Studies courses from
non-Indians? When, if ever, will there be a good Indian faculty at some of these

What is the role of the tribal government in education? Is it enough to work
with on- and near-reservation schools, even when they are Indian controlled?
Should they exercise some form of monitoring of student progress? Should the
tribe or tribal education committee provide an evaluation of the colleges
and universities to students considering higher education? Must the student
rely solely on the memories of friends and acquaintances who may have spent a
semester - or even six years - at a certain institution?

Should tribal education committees provide information and news to its
students regarding developments on the reservation and opportunities they might
well fill? Does the tribe have any published goals describing the projects and
efforts it is making toward establishing self-sufficient communities that
would attract students to look to the reservation homeland for employment after
graduation? What kind of professional expertise will the tribe need, and how
will it inform students majoring in those fields?

What about those students who have never lived on the reservation and are
nevertheless listed as tribal members and receiving scholarships? Do we have
some way of bringing real Indian life into their experiences? After receiving
a scholarship from a tribe, does not the non-resident student have some
responsibility to connect with his tribe in cultural and social ways that will
create or help bolster his or her sense of Indian identity? We have all kinds of
people running around Indian country claiming membership and making policy
statements who have never lived on a reservation and cannot quickly identify
with a tribal community. Should we provide small gatherings and seminars that
bring knowledge of the tribe, its history and present status, to these

Education conferences for decades have stressed methods of getting waivers
on federal rules for granting education funds. Isn't it time we devoted
considerable time and energy to finding the best way to ensure success at the
college and graduate level? Why are we sending people to college if we have no
way to encourage them to help build the tribe, reservation resources and
communities? Aren't we just allowing our best resource - educated people - to slip
away? Aren't we wasting money and lives under the current system, where there
is no accountability and sovereignty becomes an empty slogan? Are we
building nations or dissolving communities?

Vine Deloria Jr., Standing Rock Sioux, is an internationally recognized
American Indian scholar and author whose work has embraced many fields, including
history, law and religious studies. He is a former executive director of the
National Congress of American Indians and a retired professor from the
University of Arizona and the University of Colorado. Deloria is the recipient of
the 2005 American Indian Visionary Award.
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