WASHINGTON– Friday, June 14, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, along with Reps. Ben Ray Luján, Michelle Lujan Grisham, and Steve Pearce announced they have introduced legislation to improve tribal education and preserve Native American language in schools.
Graduation rates for American Indians and Alaska Natives are less than 50 percent – lower than the graduation rates for all other ethnic groups in the United States. The Building Upon Unique Indian Learning and Development (BUILD) Act would remove barriers that tribal leaders often encounter in teaching Native languages at school, improve on existing programs and partnerships, and create new incentives to encourage educational success throughout Indian Country.
“I often hear from many of the tribal school districts in New Mexico about the challenges they face in providing a quality education for our students, and I am committed to meeting these challenges,” Udall said. He is a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.
“Our bill takes many positive steps to improve Indian education, including reauthorization of the Esther Martinez Act – legislation I originally helped pass to honor one of New Mexico’s strongest advocates of preserving Native heritage and language. Native students deserve schools that honor their unique language needs so they can create a new generation of tribal leaders, and I am proud to lead efforts in proposing solutions for our communities that have contributed so much to the diversity and history of our nation,” he said.
“Supporting our tribal school systems, including our tribal colleges and universities, helps build a bright future for Native students and strengthens communities across Indian Country,” Heinrich said. “When teachers have the training and tools to create innovative, culturally relevant learning environments, students are more engaged in their educations and more likely to thrive. I am committed to ensuring our Native teachers and students receive the resources and support they need to succeed.”
“A good education is essential to helping children get ahead and opening the doors to a brighter future – especially one that embraces the culture and traditions of Native communities,” Luján said. “Unfortunately, too many schools in Native American communities lack the resources they need to give their students all that they deserve. From attracting highly qualified teachers to improving school facilities, tribal communities continue to face difficult challenges that impact their ability to provide a better learning environment.
“This legislation confronts these challenges head on by providing incentives to attract highly qualified teachers and prepare teachers with the skills they will need to be good leaders in the classroom. In addition, it recognizes the important role of Impact Aid in school districts serving Native students and provides for more of this vital funding. By also including a focus on teaching native languages, this bill will help tribal communities preserve their cultural traditions,” he said.
Specifically, the BUILD Act would improve the conditions and teaching for Native American students by:
- Supporting tribal leaders teaching Native language in schools through reauthorization of the Esther Martinez Act to provide grants for tribes to prevent the loss of heritage, language and culture;
- Improving the relationship between the Departments of the Interior and Education to coordinate technical assistance and resource distribution for Native American students;
- Offering scholarships, loan forgiveness, incentive pay and housing assistance for highly qualified teachers to commit to high need, high poverty areas like tribal schools;
- Creating a Native American teacher/administrator pipeline to recruit, retain and improve continuing education specifically in the STEM, health and general education fields;
- Expanding the role of tribal colleges and universities as primary training campuses for both Native educators and non-Natives working with Native American learners; and
- Improving access to resources and supporting tribal schools with cultural programs aimed at school dropout prevention, health and wellness activities.
Supporters of the legislation in New Mexico include the Institute of American Indian Arts and the Navajo Technical College, and national partners like the National Congress of the American Indians, the National Indian Education Association, the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools and the National Indian Impacted Schools Association.