By BUNTY ANQUOE Lakota Times Special to the Journal-World
WASHINGTON Despite the absence of President Bush, participants at the first White House Conference on Indian Education are hard at work developing action plans to produce improvements in Indian education.
Nearly 1,000 conferees, including 234 official delegates, tribal leaders, educators, parents and federal government representatives, are gathered here to coordinate educational strategies and reforms to better serve American Indian students.
The Kansas delegation remains positive despite a sense of skepticism voiced by many participants Wednesday, the conference's first day of meetings.
Bob Martin, president of Haskell Indian Junior College in Lawrence and member of the conference advisory board, said the skepticism is over the administration's budget constraints. But momentum for positive action is building, he said.
``OVERALL, people are realizing that this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make a difference,'' he said. ``Everybody seems to be very anxious about the task before them.''
An advisory committee has been working for the past year to identify educational concerns of Native Americans and make recommendations for action. The official delegates are assigned to working groups to address 11 topics formulated by the advisory committee before the opening of the conference.
Issues include: the establishment of an independent Indian board of education; delivery of services to Indian communities; literacy; academic achievement; alcohol- and drug-free schools; exceptional education; readiness for school; native language and culture; school structure; higher education; school personnel; and adult education.
MARILYN Bread, education development specialist at Haskell, said the Kansas delegates are opposed to the idea of an independent Indian board of education because there is no clear structure defining the role of such a board.
``No one would even know where it would be. Recommendations should focus on existing legislation and expansion of programs to better serve Indian students,'' she said.
Other delegates agreed. Delores TwoHatchet, an Oklahoma delegate, said, ``We don't need to make up another board. We need to strengthen the programs we have or we're just going to be going around in circles.''
Other delegates said an independent board might tend to serve the interests of certain tribes or areas.
INTERIOR Secretary Manuel Lujan spoke to participants at a kickoff luncheon and expressed his support of education as a department priority.
He cited the president's America 2000 education goals and said that Native Americans must match or exceed these national goals.
``The year 2000 is only eight years away. We have an ambitious agenda to meet, but the time is now to build the solid foundation for reaching these goals,'' he said. ``Academic achievements are not solely the concern of the federal government. It is a shared responsibility.
``Community support for educational excellence translates directly into better academic performance. Tribes, the community and parents must become an integral part of the extended education system.''
More tribal and community involvement is a pervasive theme of the various workshops.
VERNA Finch, Kansas delegate and Kickapoo tribal council member, agreed that tribes should be more active in local schools.
Bread, in a caucus meeting, described tribal responsibility as ``a big issue'' for early childhood education through college.
``Tribes need to get involved,'' she said.
Bread, president of the Kansas Association for Native American Education, also said that many cultural ``paraprofessionals'' exist in Indian communities and must be cultivated, perhaps through mentoring programs.
The Kansas group also expressed support for the establishment of cultural and learning centers in tribal communities.
The delegate working groups will formulate a comprehensive agenda on each of the 11 topics today. The conference ends Friday evening.