By BUNTY ANQUOE Lakota Times Special to the Journal-World
WASHINGTON Offended that President Bush didn't make an appearance at a White House Conference on Indian Education, about 50 tribal leaders and educators attending the conference braved icy temperatures Friday to stage a protest at the White House.
"President Bush reaffirmed his support of a government-to-government relationship recently. We're meeting in his name, but where is the president?" said Peterson Zah, president of the Navajo Nation.
"Imagine the impact he would have had if he just came in for 10 minutes. The press coverage would have done so much to bring attention to Indian education," he said.
Wilma Mankiller, principal chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, said, "Even 10 minutes of the president's time would have indicated his sincere interest in Indian education. We're all disappointed. The presence of Mrs. Bush would have been appreciated."
Oren Lyons, faithkeeper of the Onondaga Nation, also questioned the president's commitment to Indian education.
"He meets with Girl Scouts and athletic teams, yet he can't find the time for us. We rally have to call into question his real attitude toward Native Americans," Lyons said.
Aside from those criticisms, delegates to the conference say they have been pleased to get the opportunity to comprehensively address Indian education concerns. The 234 delegates developed several action plans to radically change and improve the quality of education for American Indian children.
"This is the first time that we've had this type of forum to address education issues," said Lionel Bordeaux, co-chairman of the conference.
The interaction of reservation Indians and urban Indians was an important aspect, he said.
"We really touched base with a lot of people," Bordeaux noted.
Eleven work groups drafted more than 100 resolutions that were acted upon by the full body of delegates.
Conference topics included higher education, native and non-native school personnel, adult education, readiness for schools, exceptional education, safe, alcohol and drug-free schools, governance of Indian education and consideration of an independent Indian board of education.
The proposal to create an independent board of education was overwhelmingly defeated by delegates, who viewed such an entity as an intrusion on tribal sovereignty.
The pervasive themes throughout the conference were greater tribal and community involvement, the preservation of language and culture and increased funding through existing and new legislation.
By law, the conference findings must be compiled into a final report to the president within 120 days and submitted to Congress within 90 days thereafter.