Remarks to the National Indian Education Association Legislative Summit
***As Prepared for Delivery***
Thank you, President Patricia Whitefoot, for your gracious invitation to speak with you and the members of the National Indian Education Association. It is both an honor and a pleasure to be here with you again this year.
I want to recognize and thank Past President Ryan Wilson, of the Lakota Oglala, for his kindness and friendship. And to NIEA's great Executive Director, Lillian Sparks, who will be our next great Commissioner of the Administration for Native Americans at HHS, I say thank you and I am looking forward to our continued collaboration.
This is both a proud and a sad gathering for all of us. This year, we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the National Indian Education Association-a great achievement of collaboration, dedication, and perseverance. While there is much yet to accomplish, much has been gained in the past 40 years.
Yet, we are mourning the passing of one of Indian Country's keystones, Dr. William Demmert. A credit to his ancestors, and an example to those who remain and will come after, Bill Demmert laid a strong and lasting foundation for the survival of Native American languages and traditions.
While we gather here today to re-commit ourselves to ensuring excellent educational opportunities for Native American students, let us do so in memory and celebration of Dr. Bill Demmert, who helped found this great organization.
Let us take a moment of silence to be grateful for him and his leadership, grateful for his role in writing the Indian Education Act, the Indian Students' Bill of Rights, and for his extensive body of research on Native language preservation and culturally based instruction.
We will always look to him for inspiration and guidance.
As a small token of respect for Dr. Demmert's contributions and our renewed commitment to carry his work forward, I would like to present to you, Patricia, and to all the members of the NIEA, a copy the statement I gave on the floor of the United States Senate in honor of Dr. Demmert.
I also want to recognize the beautiful words of Namaka Rawlins, which appear at the end of my statement, and the wonderful memories that Ryan Wilson and Rosita Worl shared with me so that I could include them in this small tribute to a great man.
What must we do to honor Dr. Demmert's memory? We must include in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act a stronger place and a stronger voice for the Native community when decisions about educational policy are made. We must ensure that programs support the academic excellence our children can achieve, but we must carve the pathway to that goal using Native language, culture, and tradition. We must sharpen the focus for training and recruiting more Native teachers, principals, superintendents, and commissioners. Some day in the future, I believe we will see the first Native American Secretary of Education.
All of these tasks will require resources in the form of federal funding and in our time, effort, and commitment. We must put our money where it will work, toward programs that are research based. We must expect positive outcomes from the programs designed to help Indian students learn state standards, graduate from high school, and graduate from college and job training. We must demand accountability not only from the Department of Education and the Bureau of Indian Education but from ourselves.
At the end of each day, we must ask ourselves, "Did I live up to Bill Demmert's example today? Did I do all I could to find the right answer and implement an effective solution?"
We cannot rest on our laurels. We cannot congratulate ourselves for finally getting Esther Martinez passed, or for continuing to fund Alaska Native Educational Equity and the Native Hawaiian Education Act. We cannot believe that getting Indian Head Start set-asides fixed and reauthorizing Tribal Colleges and Universities is enough.
No. We must ensure that Native language immersion programs have the flexibility they need under No Child Left Behind. We must give public and BIE schools alike the resources, professional development opportunities, and research-based practices they need to implement curriculum that respect Native cultures and languages. We must grow and nurture more Native teachers who will stay in the villages and on the reservations to inspire and educate our youth. We must increase the opportunities for our young people and old people alike to gain new skills as adults.
We must fight for policies, programs, and practices that lead to schools where Native American students feel welcome, where communities have a strong voice in how their schools are run, where traditional culture and the modern world are not at odds but complement each other.
We must do everything we can to give hope where there is alcoholism and suicide. Respect where there is intolerance and violence. High expectations where only resignation exists.
Our children have much to contribute to their communities-communities that need so much. Clean water. Sanitation. Warm homes. Two years ago I spoke to you and said:
The future of Native communities depends of their youth. When Native communities can promote and infuse their cultures into their educational systems, they are securing their future by instilling their rich traditions in their youth while better preparing them to succeed.
Bill Demmert taught us that, and taught us how to achieve it by his research and his leadership. He gave us the tools to teach our children to be engineers, teachers, doctors, leaders, and respected elders and culture bearers.
I am honored to work with you toward that future, where Native children, youth and adults can harmonize their lives with two very different worlds-their own Native communities and the global community that all of us must live in. I think that is a very worthwhile goal.