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Congresswoman McCollum's Remarks for the National Indian Education Association

February 26, 2013

Congresswoman McCollum's Remarks to the National Indian Education Association
[As prepared]

Tuesday, February 26, 9:15 AM

Thank you all for having me here to speak with you today. Thank you for the introduction, and thank you to NIEA’s President, Dr. Heather Shotton, for the invitation.

It is always an honor to speak at this summit because it brings together such a dedicated group of leaders, educators, and young people. 

As the new Democratic co-chair for the Native American Caucus, improving the education of American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians is one of my top priorities. All children deserve the opportunity to succeed in school –and all schools deserve the support and resources to meet the needs of their students.

Unfortunately, the needs of Native students and schools are neglected and it seems forgotten. My own education on the challenges facing schools throughout Indian Country began with our Minnesota tribes. The graduation rate for Native students in our state is half that of White students.

As I’ve had the opportunity to meet with tribes on a national level and work with organizations like the NIEA, I’ve seen how sadly familiar this story is. Providing for the education of Native youth is a federal trust responsibility, and our report card shows a failing grade.

Tomorrow, the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee will be holding a hearing on the state of Indian Education. I have some wonderful partners on that subcommitteE: Chairman Mike Simpson, Ranking Member Jim Moran, and Congressman Tom Cole, my Republican counterpart on the Native American Caucus.

We are committed to making improvements at the federal level to make sure that children in your communities are getting the education they deserve and the education they need.

The Government Accountability Office is finalizing a report with some recommendations for how the Bureau of Indian Affairs can be more responsive and effective in serving the needs of Indian Country. We are all going to be taking a careful look at that report, and learning from the testimony given tomorrow. But we also know the importance of hearing directly from tribal leaders and educators about the solutions that work for your communities.

We must fulfill the trust responsibility—and we must do it in a way that respects Native culture and strengthens Native communities

  • Making consultation with tribes a cornerstone of BIE operations and any reorganization
  • Reauthorizing the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act and providing funding for programs that sustain your languages while supporting student success.
  • Crafting legislation like the Native CLASS Act to better prepare Native teachers and to increase Indian involvement in the schools that serve your children.

What we don’t need to do is slash the funding to our most vulnerable students. And yet that is exactly what the reckless, across the board 9% cuts we call “sequestration” will do.

Without immediate action, these irresponsible cuts will go into effect this Friday,
but most of our nation’s students and teachers won’t feel the effects of those cuts until the next school year.

But Impact Aid, which supports the schools serving ourmilitary families and tribal communities, will be cut immediately. The lack of forward funding for Impact Aid means that the students that we have the greatest federal obligation to educate will be the first to suffer from sequestration.

I want you to know that I did not vote for this foolish approach to budget control, and I find it shameful that the leadership of this House thinks the solution is legislation that would impose even deeper cuts to education, housing, and health care. They are pushing for these devastating cuts while protecting tax loopholes for lucrative oil company profits and NASCAR track owners. We need to let everyone know that funding for Indian Education is not just a budgetary line item. It is the fulfillment of a trust obligation and an investment in the future of tribal nations—an investment in the future of America.

We need to work together to tell the story of how funding for Indian Education impacts your students. We need to hear about the success stories of your mentoring programs, extended school days, Native language programs, or Head Start early learning initiatives. That is why the message that you are all bringing during this summit is so vital. 

Thank you for sharing your stories and concerns, and for coming here to advocate for Native children. I continue to learn so much from you all, and I would be happy to continue that dialogue with any questions you might have today.