Named in honor of Chief Seattle of the Duwamish tribe, Seattle was a fitting site for a recent U.S. Department of Education (ED) learning session on improving urban Indian education.
William Mendoza, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on American Indians and Alaska Natives, and Joyce Silverthorne, Director of ED’s Office of Indian Education, listened as tribal leaders, Indian-education stakeholders and the general public spoke from their experience and their hearts about the priorities for urban Indian youth in Seattle’s schools.
“These urban, Native consultations are historic,” said Arlie Neskahi, Native American Education Program Manager for the Seattle Public Schools and a member of the Diné Nation. “The majority [consultations] in the past have been done just with tribes.”
Moderator Ross Braine, the University of Washington’s acting tribal liaison and member of Apsaalooke Nation led the day’s session. Braine ensured that every speaker was heard and maintained the right pace with insight and humor.
Key participants at the session spoke about the importance of having ED in the room. “As educators, we’ve gone to tribal settings, and we sat in the back of the room, listening,” said Neskahi. “So now we’re getting to stand before these federal representatives and share as Native educators. It’s beautiful to me.”
Mary Wilber, Title VII Coordinator for Washington State’s Lake Washington, Bellevue and North Shore School Districts, also saw great importance in the session. “I know the needs for our children…I also know the successes. And those successes need to be shared with people from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Indian Education, and Mr. Mendoza,” she said.
Mendoza agreed with Wilber. “Our learning session in Seattle is critical to the White House initiative, because each of these areas that the initiative relates to…brings to the initiative a certain uniqueness that we couldn’t otherwise garner through the reservation lens,” he said.
Joyce Silverthorne explained that for ED’s Office of Indian Education, “it’s been critical… to look at what [Seattle’s urban-Native community] have learned and what they are seeing as the most important issues, and to help them to share that with other people across the country.”
This Urban-Native Education Learning Session was a continuation of federal roundtable discussions that began this year to offer tribal leaders and others a chance to provide substantive feedback on the goals and strategies of an Executive Order by President Obama entitled: “Improving American Indian Education and Alaska Native Educational Opportunities and Strengthening Tribal Colleges and Universities.”
As the session wound down, Mendoza reflected on the day. “We’re very optimistic that today was further validation that we can better help educators at the state and the tribal level make more meaningful connections to their students,” he said.
For more information on ED’s tribal consultation and learning sessions, please go to www.edtribalconsultations.org.
Joe Barison is the Director of Communications and Outreach for ED’s San Francisco Regional Office.