By BUNTY ANQUOE Lakota Times Special to the Journal-World
WASHINGTON Delegates to the White House Conference on Indian Education are on a mission.
Conference delegates have been working long hours mapping strategies for improvements in Indian education.
Eleven work groups spent most of Thursday, the second day of the conference, ranking and refining suggested resolutions for voting by the full body this afternoon.
On Thursday, delegates heard from Lamar Alexander, U.S. secretary of education.
Alexander noted the similarity between the goals of Indian education and President Bush's America 2000 educational goals.
"THESE GOALS are not a set of orders from the government, but an effort to mobilize America to set and realize their own goals," he said.
"You're doing what we hope every community in America will do put a high priority on our children."
Alexander said the U.S. educational system is outdated and must be revised.
"Our schools were designed for another time. For instance, the Japanese learn in three years what American kids learn in four. Their school year is longer and more intensive," he said.
Alexander drew applause at his declaration that schools must be reorganized to fit the family; and to increase flexibility in classrooms in concert with broad local participation in the educational process.
Finally, Alexander assured participants that he supports their efforts to incorporate native language and culture into educational systems.
Greater tribal and community involvement in local schools has been an underlying theme of the topics discussed at the conference and is considered key to the preservation of traditional cultures.
JULIE CLOUSE, Kansas liaison to the conference, said delegates are offended that President Bush hasn't made an appearance at the conference.
There also has not been enough emphasis or consideration of the state reports, she said. States were asked to hold pre-conference meetings and to submit reports about specific concerns about Indian education.
"They're not using the state reports. State conferences put long, hard hours into them. I came here to be Kansas' representative," Clouse said.
Wilma Mankiller, principal chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, challenged participants to produce a strong product to present to Congress and urged them to aggressively seek needed funding.
"If we were a savings and loan, we wouldn't be reluctant to ask for money," she said. "Let's give (Congress) a good work product. We've given up a lot over the last 200 years. We're not giving up one more inch," she said.
"SOLUTIONS can't be implemented without resources," she said.
Verna Finch, Kansas delegate and Kickapoo tribal council member, said the higher education work group is proposing changes that include extending financial aid to Indian students beyond four years and extending Indian education entitlement beyond the present high school parameters to college.
Marilyn Bread, education development specialist at Haskell Indian Junior College, said Indian communities should be used as valuable resources in all educational levels.
"One major focus has to be the inclusion of the family in the education process. They must be empowered with various training programs to obtain the necessary awareness of how the majority population operates in school systems," she said.
After the conference ends today, members of the Kansas delegation will take back their findings to implement on a local level, she said.
"We're not going to wait for the final report. We're going to share our findings with Kansas. We're going to immediately implement the corrective actions that have been identified here," she said.