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Native Americans and Education

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Whisper nThunder

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Host Billie Fidlin and Guest Sarah Adams-Cornell

American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) graduation rates have been on a downward trend since 2008 and analysis of the socio-economic reasons driving it is ongoing. As The Nation recently found, “Punitive discipline, inadequate curriculum, and declining federal funding created an education crisis.”  Apart from Department of Defense schools, schools for American Indian students are the only ones in the country operated and totally funded by the federal government under treaty agreements that promise federally-supported schooling in perpetuity in exchange for tribes giving up lands (which are not subject to property taxes and generate no tax revenue to support schools). And no group of students in America fails to graduate or achieve proficiency at such disproportionate rates. 

The failure of the U.S. to deliver on its treaty obligations to educate American Indian students first came to light in 1928, when the 847-page Merriam Report documented the disastrous effects of federal policies that forced American Indian children into boarding schools. These schools imposed manual labor and worked to eradicate students’ “Indianness” by teaching that their cultures and languages were inferior.In public schools across the country, American Indian and Alaska Native students are more likely to be suspended than any other racial group, with the exception of African Americans. Native students are disciplined at roughly two times the rate of their white peers. And though they represent approximately 1 percent of the student population, they account for 2 percent of all school arrests and 3 percent of all incidents referred by school staff to law enforcement, according to 2014 data collected by the National Congress of American Indians.

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