Indian ed receives lots of attention and funding

Native American woman graduating. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

By Lee Egerstrom

Minnesota schools are about to reopen for another school year but it won’t just be “same old, same old” for many Native American students, from kindergarten classrooms on up to doctoral programs at universities.

The Minnesota Legislature has approved major changes to Minnesota education programs that may be the most extensive for any given year. Changes involving American Indian education, in particular, may have never received more extensive attention, or funding, in any previous legislative session.

The changes start with the beginning of Minnesota Native’s educational journey.

A Head Start tribal set aside allocation program directs that 10.72 percent of state Head Start annual allocations be made to tribal Head Start programs. The purpose is to provide stable funding from year-to-year, encourage better planning and support consistent operations at tribal Head Start programs.

A progress on American Indian education issues was provided by Patina Park (Mniconjou /Cheyenne River Sioux), director of Tribal State Relations in the Minnesota Governor’s Office. The following are among new programs, changes and revisions Park called progress achieved during the past January to June legislative session. She cited:
• American Indian Education Aid Increase and Use Revisions – This includes a requirement that aid can only be used for non-Natives after all American Indian students’ specific cultural and academic needs are met. Also, only American Indian students attending nonpublic schools may be served by programming funded with American Indian education aid through shared time enrollment.
•Native Language Revitalization Grants. – These grants help schools begin language instruction in Dakota and Anishinaabe languages or another language Indigenous to the United States and Canada.
•American Indian History and Cultural Re-licensure – This re-licensure requirement of 16 hours of cultural competency training for teachers to include at least eight out of those hours be about Indigenous education.
•Minnesota Indian Teacher Training Program – This program was expanded to create a special revenue account to allow grants spanning five years. This is to provide more financial stability, including a predictable scholarship structure for eligible American Indians to pursue teacher licensure and other education training for an entire four to five-year college career.
•American Indian Culture and Language Classes – This program supports culture and language classes. It is for school districts and charter schools that serve more than 100 American Indian students, and those that have more than 5 percent American Indian student population.
•American Indian Mascots Prohibited – This new law prohibits mascots depicting American Indian people, their symbols, images and personalities by public schools. An appeals process is provided for the 11 tribal nations in Minnesota, and a Tribal Nations Education Committee (TNEC) was created for public schools wishing to appeal the prohibition.

These measures are directed at k-12 public schools and charter schools serving Native American children.

Moving on from there, the University of Minnesota announced it was responding to the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling forbidding universities from using race as a factor in admissions policies.

While it will – and must – comply with the controversial court ruling, Minnesota news media reported the university’s Twin Cities and other campuses use about 10 factors other than race for admitting applicants.  How that all shakes out in the future will start with the enrollment process in the coming year.

Meanwhile, a lot of changes to programs and some new personnel are in place for the coming year at colleges and universities of Minnesota State with its 26 community and tribal colleges and seven state universities. They make the third largest public higher education system in America, after California and New York systems.

Helping existing undergraduate and new students at those campuses, the Legislature provided funds for at tuition freeze at 2022-2023 levels for two years.
“It was a very productive session,” said Doug Anderson, communications and media director for Minnesota State.

The Governor’s Office and state legislative education leaders have positioned the state colleges and universities “to respond to the critical needs of students, promote equitable student success, and provide Minnesota the talent and workforce it needs,” he said.
Financial help was provided to help campuses meet basic needs insecurity, mental health, and support for other “high-need” student support services.

The Legislature approved $8.5 million for each year of the state biennium (two years) in Minnesota American Indian Scholarships. It is a scholarship program to assist eligible students to complete their undergraduate education.

Another scholarship program will especially help students seeking technical educations at state community and tribal colleges. It is the Workforce Development Scholarships program making $2,500 scholarships available to students enrolled in programs for high demand occupations

An especially important new college and university program will benefit this year’s high school seniors and other prospective new students. It is the North Star Promise scholarship program for students entering a public higher education or tribal college in the 2024–2025 academic year. Amounts will vary but may not exceed 100 percent of tuition and fees after grants and other scholarships are deducted.

Among other actions, Minnesota State’s trustees named Anita Hanson to serve as president of Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College (FDLTCC) in June, succeeding Stephanie Hammitt who died of cancer in November last year.  Hanson, like Hammitt, is an experienced higher education leader and is an enrolled Fond du Lac Band Ojibwe member.

While the change in presidencies was occurring, Fond du Lac started its first cohort of students enrolled in a new Bachelor of Science Degree in Elementary Education. Fond du Lac also teamed with Leech Lake Tribal College in a program with the U.S. Department of Education to build sustainable educational systems to help Tribal college students to enter agricultural and STEM workforces.

At Bemidji State University, Chrissy Downwind was promoted to a newly created position of vice president for American Indian student success and campus diversity. This makes her the first American Indian woman to hold a vice presidential level position within Minnesota State’s seven state universities.

It is also a dual campus position with Northwest Technical College, also at Bemidji. Downwind (Ojibwe/Lakota) has been executive director of BSU’s American Indian Resource Center since June 2020. In that capacity she has been BSU’s coordinator with its tribal college partners at Red Lake Nation College, White Earth Tribal and Community College, Leech Lake Tribal College and Fond Du Lac Tribal and Community College.
At Northwest Technical College, meanwhile, Nichole Naasz has been hired as the campus’ first American Indian Resource Center student success coordinator, a role previously shared with Bemidji State. Ashley Jones has been hired to take that same position at BSU.

These moves are tied in with Minnesota State creating a Nisidotaading Institute at Bemidji State to provide a system-wide resource for its colleges and universities. It is to share best practices information and develop training materials for cultural competency for all Minnesota State faculty and staff, and thus in turn create support for Indigenous students.
Nisidotaading is Ojibwe meaning “having a mutual understanding.” It was started this past year as the Institute for Indigenous Education & Practice. But it will also be the name of a new initiative at Bemidji State set to start in fall of 2024.

All Bemidji State students will be required to complete a course about Indigenous people or issues before graduation. The courses involve Indigenous history, culture or ways of knowing, contemporary Indigenous issues, or Indigenous languages.

In announcing the program, Minnesota State said the Nisidotaading program is thought to be unique amongst American education institutions.

Bemidji State said similar but not identical requirements exist within the Alaska university system, at Canada’s University of Winnipeg and at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul.