“In America, education must be the great equalizer,” Secretary Arne Duncan said during a speech at the fourth White House Tribal Nations Conference this week. “[It is] the one force that enables people to overcome differences of birth and bank accounts and of power and privilege.”
Each of the nation’s 566 federally recognized tribes were invited to send a representative to the conference, which provided leaders the opportunity to interact directly with senior officials in the administration.
Duncan noted that the Administration is committed to tribes, citing such examples as President Obama’s Executive Order establishing the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education, the launch of the State-Tribal Education Partnership, and help from ED’s School Improvement Grants. However, he said there is still a “distance we have yet to travel,” and that the conference is “an opportunity to take stock of our progress together, and to plan how we will address serious challenges that lie ahead.”
Secretary Duncan explained that visiting reservations has been among the “most rewarding, uplifting–and sometimes heart-wrenching–opportunities I have had since taking office.” He spoke of the real challenges that Indian Country faces, but that
Together, we must do more to nurture the next generation. Native youth need, and absolutely deserve, safe homes, safe communities, and an education system that prepares them for success in college and careers. They need and deserve an education system that prepares them for leadership and service to their communities, tribes, and country.
Education, Duncan said, “is the surest, most powerful path for breaking the cycle of poverty on tribal lands.”
We must prepare our students to preserve the proud heritage and vibrant cultures that have shaped America’s history for centuries. Your children are ready–they want to be challenged, they want to be successful. They just need a light to show them the way. And that is why we must be their champions now, so they can lead in the future. Children only get one shot at an education. They can’t wait for reform to materialize a decade from now.
Cameron Brenchley is Director of Digital Strategy at the U.S. Department of Education