Bill on tribal education weighed for budget session

Jan 26, 2016 By Christina George, Staff Writer

Wyoming teachers and administrators would be required to receive three hours of tribal studies training under a proposed bill State Rep. Jim Allen, R-Lander, might sponsor in this year's legislative session.

The bill, titled "Tribal Studies for School Teachers and Administrators," has not formally been filed for the legislative session that startsFeb. 8.

Allen is gathering community input on the draft before he moves forward.

The bill responds to an ongoing effort by schools on the Wind River Indian Reservation to encourage statewide adoption of an American Indian education component in public school curricula.

"Reservation community members, school board members and educators have been working with the state school boards association for several years to bring this concept to reality," Allen said. "I volunteered during the interim to help move it along legislatively, since it is in my (legislative) district."

Fremont County School District 21 is the most recent to submit a resolution to the Wyoming School Boards Association seeking support for an Indian education act.

This is the first time the effort has made a legislative step. However, Fort Washakie superintendent Terry Ebert said he doesn't believe the draft bill meets the initial goal.

In a report to his Board of Trustees Jan. 20, Ebert said the legislation says nothing about instruction to students in Wyoming K-12 schools.

"In that sense it is not an 'Indian education for all' bill," Ebert said. "One could presume by educating teachers and administrators, it would impact the classrooms, but there is not direction to that regard."

Required tribal studies

According to the draft, beginning with the 2016-17 academic year, funds from the Wyoming education resource block grant model would be made available for teachers and administrators to receive a required minimum of three hours of tribal studies training within the first four years of employment in a school district.

The state superintendent of public instruction would be required to designate an education tribal liaison. The liaison, in conjunction with the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes, and subject to review by the state superintendent, would develop and make available suitable materials for tribal studies for teachers and administrators.

The material would advance "the understanding of the cultural heritage and contemporary contributions of Native American Indian tribes, with particular emphasis on the Eastern Shoshone and the Northern Arapaho Indian Tribes," the draft reads.

Material would also feature the music, dance, painting, photography, literature and poetry of the two tribes.

Ebert said reservations school districts already do what is outlined in the draft.

Many involved

Allen said several people were involved in drafting the bill, including previous legislative Select Tribal Committee members, Legislative Services Office attorneys, local school boards and community volunteers.

At a legislative committee meeting in December in Lander, Allen said tribal leaders supported the proposal. However, some felt the bill was not ready to proceed, as it was the first time they had learned about it.

Community input

The legislation was tabled until the community digests and approves it, Allen said. He attended public meetings at Wyoming Indian High School, Fort Washakie and Arapahoe to collect input as he refines the bill.

"Our committee also heard from Mr. Terry Dugas, Wyoming PBS director, about progress PBS has made in the six-part video series related to reservation history, culture, excreta, that could be used statewide as a classroom resource for teachers," Allen said. "So, we considered two separate, but related, parts of an Indian Education for All module."

Two-thirds vote required

Should Allen submit the bill to the Legislature, the upcoming budget session will necessitate a two-thirds introductory vote by the Wyoming House of Representatives before it could proceed.

"Since it does not deal directly with the state budget, it may fail on the first vote, if it even comes up," he said. "But that does not necessarily mean the Legislature disapproves of the bill. If so, we can wait and bring it in the 2017 general session. The idea has support, and it is not going away."

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