FCNL Supports Improvements in Native Education Programs
October 12, 2011
Senator Daniel Akaka
Chair, Senate Committee on Indian Affairs
838 Hart Senate Office Building
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
Dear Senator Akaka:
On behalf of the Friends Committee on National Legislation, I am writing to express our support for S. 1262, the Native Culture, Language and Access to Success in Schools Acth (or Native CLASS Act). We understand that the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs may mark up S. 1262 in the near future and we are urging that all members of the Committee support this important legislation.
We believe that the Native CLASS Act offers a solid investment in the future of Native American and all American communities. The legislation identifies innovative solutions to help foster a stronger sense of identity among American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian youth through education. Past federal policies toward tribal nations have included the suppression of Native languages and religious and cultural traditions, the promotion of assimilation, and uprooting Native peoples from their rural homelands to urban settings. Given that traumatic history, it is not surprising that many Indian youth struggle to find solid ground on which to stand. This history continues to affect the educational and life experiences of Indian youth today, evidenced by lower academic achievement, lower employment rates, and higher suicide rates than experienced by their non-Indian peers.
Your legislation's emphasis on using Native languages and methods of instruction, and incorporating the traditional knowledge and cultural teachings that derive from those languages, will strengthen Native studentsf education and build their confidence and hope for future achievements.
We also strongly support the bill's emphasis on juvenile justice provisions that authorize educational services for at-risk Indian youth, including those in correctional facilities or institutions and those who can be diverted from the experience of incarceration.
As the bill goes forward in the committee, we urge support especially for the provisions of educational alternatives to incarceration. The historic and current work of Quakers with prisons and prisoners informs our view that incarceration can be the most expensive and least effective response to criminal and anti-social behavior. We support establishment of the Indian Children and Youth At-Risk Education Program, designed to find culturally-based ways to help youth who are at risk of incarceration to further their education or receive training toward employment. These provisions build on important work in the Tribal Law and Order Act, and would be very positive developments.
The approaching reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act creates a moment for the Native CLASS Act to go forward in the congressional process. We thank you for your leadership in putting the Native CLASS Act forward, and we support its adoption by the full Committee.
Diane R. Randall