From the Director's Desk

For generations, the federal and state governments have held paramount control over the formal education of Indian children nationwide. The results of this circumvention of tribal governments have been disastrous. The over 500,000 American Indian and Alaska Native students in this country consistently suffer disproportionately high dropout rates, and low educational achievement and attainment levels.

However, in the past couple of decades, Indian tribes have started to address these issues. As governments, tribes want to provide and account for education in new and essential ways. Since 1987, The Native American Rights Fund has accepted the challenge to help tribes accomplish these goals and empower their communities to ensure their future. NARF has been working directly with tribes and organizations to develop tribal education laws, reform national education policy, and coordinate local education resources for Indian students.

Thanks to the current support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the past support from the Northwest Area Foundation, Bush Foundation, Carnegie Corporation, and the Coca-Cola Foundation, NARF is bringing its unique expertise and experiences in successfully advancing Indian sovereign rights to the educational arena.

John E. Echohawk (Pawnee)
Executive Director

Improving the Education of Our Native American Children

Over 80% of American Indian and Alaska Native elementary and secondary school students attend public schools, even on Indian reservations. In the public schools, statistics show that American Indian and Alaska Native students have the highest dropout rate of any racial or ethnic group (36%) and the lowest high school completion and college attendance rates of any minority group. As of 1990, only 66% of American Indians aged 25 years or older were high school graduates, compared to 78% of the general population. The 1994 National Assessment of Education Progress showed that over 50% of American Indian fourth graders scored below what the U.S. Department of Education considers to be the basic level in reading proficiency, compared with 42% of all students. In 1988, 32% of all American Indian and Alaska Native eighth grade students performed below the basic academic level in math. This was double the rate of white eighth graders (16%) who performed below the basic levels in math and greater than the rate of Hispanic eighth grade students (28%) and African American eighth graders (29%). That same year only 5% of all American Indian and Alaska Native students performed at an advanced level in math, which was the smallest percentage of all ethnic groups

Most people agree that the statistics show the symptoms, not the problems or causes, of Indian education. This is a snapshot of the overall Indian education picture that tribes are seeking to better address in cooperation with the states and the federal government

Rosebud Sioux Tribe

In 1987, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe requested NARF's legal assistance in the development of a tribal education code. The Tribe was concerned about lack of relevant curricula and meaningful parental involvement in schools - public and tribal - on its reservation in South Dakota

By late 1989, NARF prepared a draft tribal education code that addresses aspects of pre-school through post-secondary and adult education. In October 1991, following an extensive two-year review process involving school officials, community members and parents, the Tribe enacted into law its precedent-setting tribal education code

The Rosebud Sioux Education Code is the first effort by a tribe to regulate the state public schools that serve tribal children on an Indian reservation. The four substantive areas that the Code regulates include:
* Lakota language instruction
* Teachers and school administrator qualification and retention
* Tribal parental involvement programs
* Tribal alcohol and substance abuse education programs

Within this framework, the Rosebud Tribal Education Department has been implementing the Code. The Department administers a tribal student tracking system and a tribal truancy intervention program. The Department has overseen the development of and alternative high school and tribal courses for elementary and secondary teacher re-certification at Sinte Gleska University ( a tribal college located on the reservation). All of these activities and more are related in the State of Reservation Education Report prepared annually by the Department

The State of Reservation Education Report in particular shows the progress the Tribe has made in increasing student attendance levels and parental involvement in schools. The Reports are beginning to show the progress of the Tribe in improving achievement levels. The Carnegie Corporation is currently funding an independent evaluation of the effect of the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Education Department and Code on student progress. The evaluation should be completed next year

As a part of continued representation of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in implementing its Tribal Education Code, NARF, along with the Tribe and several Indian organizations, sponsors National Tribal Education Department forums. These forums, once held annually and now twice a year due to popular demand, are conducted in various locations around the country in conjunction with major gatherings of Indian educators and tribal leaders. The forums offer presentations and discussion groups on topics of interest to tribal education departments and their staff. There is no registration fee for the forums and materials are provided, including an updated Directory of Tribal Education Departments that currently lists ninety such departments

Assiniboine Sioux Tribes / Fort Peck

NARF continues to assist the Assiniboine Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana in developing, enacting and implementing a tribal code of education. Since the enactment of the code in 1995, the tribal education department has worked toward implementation of the code through cooperative agreements with the five public school districts located within the boundaries of the reservation. The initial focus has been on the development of a student tracking system to monitor the progress of Indian students in the public schools. The tribal education department has met with the local school superintendents to explain the tracking system and its mutual advantages. Once the tracking system is in place along with truancy programs, the tribal education department intends to shift its focus to curriculum and teacher certification

Three Affiliated Tribes of Fort Berthold

NARF is also assisting the Three Affiliated Tribes (Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara) of the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota to establish their own tribal education code. In elementary and secondary education, the Fort Berthold Tribes are served by five school districts, two of which are state public school districts. The remaining three districts operate under Bureau of Indian Affairs grants and, by Tribal Council resolution, function according to state law and standards. The Tribes also operate a community college, a Head Start program, and several other education programs. While the Fort Berthold Tribes have an Education Committee and have had an Education Department since 1991, NARF is helping them to expand the Department's responsibilities and develop a comprehensive education code. The dropout rate of tribal secondary students is well above 50%. Thus, the Tribes would like to focus on improving student attendance and achievement by making curriculum more relevant to tribal students and involving parents and communities in the schools. Priorities and timelines for code development and implementation have been developed and the process is now underway

Northern Cheyenne

The Northern Cheyenne Tribe of Montana has also started the process of developing a tribal education code with NARF's assistance. The Tribe recognizes the need for its educational systems to provide a relevant and quality education for tribal members who attend tribal, private, and public schools, as well as the tribal community college, Dull Knife Memorial College. Currently, over 50% of the enrolled members of the Tribe are under the age of 18 and the dropout rate is at 52%. The tribe has an Education Commission and an Education Department, but they need assistance with the long-range planning and with implementing curricula and programs. Meetings have been held with Tribal Council members, the Tribal Education Department, and school officials to develop a set of priorities and goals. Like other tribes, the priority issues are dropout and truancy rates, relevant curriculum, tracking data-bases and intergovernmental cooperation

Information Sharing

The Native American Rights Fund has developed four written manuals about the rights, roles and options of tribes in education. The manuals contain comprehensive information never before compiled or presented. They offer many suggestions about what tribes can do now, using federal, state and tribal laws to exercise their sovereignty over the education of their tribal members regardless of the primary provider of the education - federal, state or tribal government. They also set forth the financial and human resources that tribes must assess to determine the scope of their education efforts. Since their publication, NARF has distributed approximately 6,000 copies of the manuals to governments, schools, organizations, and individuals. NARF is currently developing a fifth set of materials that will detail the history of federal education laws that have provisions on tribal education departments

NARF continues to promote the benefits of a cooperative approach to education reform in Indian country. The 1998 Executive Order on American Indian and Alaska Native Education exemplifies the results of this approach. NARF continues to work with National Indian Education Association, National Advisory Council on Indian Education, Center for Law & Education, National Congress of American Indians, National Association of Federally Impacted Schools, the National Indian School Board Association, and many federal and state agencies in helping Indian students succeed academically

Executive Order on American Indian and Alaska Native Education

The landmark Executive Order on American Indian and Alaska Native Education is the result of more than four years of focused efforts by the Native American Rights Fund, the National Congress of American Indians, the National Indian Education Association and the National Advisory Council on Indian Education in cooperation with the Clinton Administration. The Executive Order will ensure that all American Indian students achieve higher academic success in schools through an environment of increased federal accountability and tribal involvement and control

"The overriding goal of the Executive Order is improve the quality of Indian education starting with the coordination of policy at the federal level, which will ultimately benefit the 600,000 American Indian and Alaska Native students in this country," says Native American Rights Fund Executive Director John Echohawk. "The President's Executive Order on Indian Education will go a long way in ensuring that all federal agencies work with Tribes and Indian communities in every aspect of education from Native languages and cultures to science and technology."

Perhaps the greatest strength of the Executive Order is its comprehensive, unifying nature, and inclusion of all federal agencies and all Indian students. In particular, it 1) directs and defines comprehensive and uniform agency implementation of existing laws; 2) ensures that American Indian students have equitable access to federal education resources; 3) ensures that Native American schools and students are included in major national education initiatives; 4) coordinates and promotes inter-agency efforts to improve Indian education; 5) coordinates and promotes federal-tribal partnerships to improve Indian education; 6) ensures greater federal responsiveness, responsibility and accountability; and 7) provides direction for new federal Indian education laws, policies, and initiatives, including budget appropriations.

On the Case

Melody McCoy, a member of the Cherokee Tribe, joined NARF as a staff attorney in October 1986. She has worked primarily in the areas of tribal rights in education and jurisdiction in Indian Country. Melody has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard University and a law degree from the University of Michigan. She is admitted to practice law in Colorado and Massachusetts.

Donald R. Wharton, joined the Native American Rights Fund in 1988 to direct its Economic Development Law Project. After directing the project which included environmental issues for six years, Don assumed responsibility for other cases at NARF in the area of tribal jurisdiction. Before joining our staff, he served as the founding Director of Oregon Legal Services Native American Program; Assistant Attorney General for the Navajo Nation Department of Justice; Staff Attorney for the Office of the Solicitor, U.S. Department of the Interior; Special Counsel to the American Indian Policy Review Commission; U.S. Senate; and General Counsel to the Klamath Tribe of Oregon. Don is a graduate of Colorado State University (1970) and the University of Colorado School of Law (1973).

Tracy Labin, a descendant of the Mohawk and Seneca Nations, first worked for NARF in 1993 as a summer law clerk in the Washington, D.C., office. The following year, she joined NARF's Boulder office as a Skadden Fellow and then as a full-time attorney in September of 1994. While in law school, Tracy clerked for the Seneca Nation Department of Justice. She also helped develop a law school course entitled "Native American Common Law and Legal Institutions," and served as Executive Editor of the Stanford Journal of International Law. B.A., University of Notre Dame (1991); J.D., Stanford University Law School (1994). Admitted to California Bar; member of the Tenth Circuit, American Bar Association, and the Colorado Indian Bar Association.

Lorna Babby, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, joined the Washington, D.C., staff of the Native American Rights Fund and the IIM litigation team in January 1998. She is a graduate of Gonzaga University and Yale Law School, and has focused professionally on issues relating to the protection of Indian lands and water rights. Prior to joining NARF, Lorna was a staff attorney with the Indian Law Resources Center, and a Water Rights Specialist with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. She is admitted to practice law in Montana

The Eagle Feather

The Native American Rights Fund would like to honor the W.K. Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek, Michigan. This Foundation has awarded the Native American Rights Fund a grant to support our legal work to improve student attendance, academic performance, and educational attainment levels. The grant will enable NARF to continue providing Indian tribes with the necessary technical assistance and leadership to establish and enforce their rights to control the education of American Indian and Alaska Native students. In particular, we will use the funding to promote cooperative agreements between tribes, states, federal agencies and public schools, and to develop tribal education codes that address curricula development, education standards, staffing, funding, and parental and community involvement


The Shinnecock Tribe of New York filed a petition with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), U.S. Department of Interior for federal recognition as a tribe on September 25th. The State of New York acknowledges the Shinnecock Tribe and interacts with the Tribe as a political entity. However, since the Shinnecock Tribe does not have the same government-to-government relationship with the federal government, it is seeking an administrative determination by the Department of Interior that the Tribe has continued to exist as an Indian tribe from the first recorded contact with the European settlers in 1640 to the present day

Traditionally, federal recognition has been accorded to Indian tribes through treaty, land set aside for a tribe, or by legislative means. Of the more than 600 tribes in the United States, 510 are federally recognized and the remaining are unrecognized or were "terminated" as governmental units during the termination policy era in the 1950s and 1960s

Presently, the Tribe is based on the Shinnecock Reservation near Southampton, New York, on the lands that have remained in its possession since 1859. The Shinnecock Tribe has occupied the eastern end of Long Island since time immemorial

Since the 1970s, the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) has provided legal and technical assistance to the Shinnecock Tribe in preparing the necessary historical, legal and anthropological documentation to support its petition for acknowledgement

Indian Class Action Gains Major Victory In Federal Court

On November 6, 1998, Federal District Court Judge Royce Lamberth denied a series of government motions seeking to dismiss the largest lawsuit in history by American Indians against the federal government. Lamberth also confirmed that the federal district court has jurisdiction to hold the federal government accountable for the on-going mismanagement of 500,000 individual Indian money accounts

By law, the individual accounts are held in trust by the government and are comprised of money earned by Indians through the lease of their land for oil, gas, timber, ranching and farming. Judge Lamberth ruled that the case will be decided under long-standing principles of common law trust, and that the federal government, as trustee, will be held to the standards of a private fiduciary

The Native American Rights Fund filed the class action lawsuit in June 1996. A trial date has been set for March 15, 1999.


NARF is pleased to welcome Richard A. Trudell (Santee Sioux) as our newest National Support Committee member. Richard is the Executive Director and principal founder of the American Indian Lawyer Training Program (AILTP) in Oakland, California - a non-profit organization dedicated to providing innovative developmental programs to American Indian attorneys, law students and other members of the Indian legal community. In addition to his work with AILTP, Richard serves as special advisor to the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council on congressional, intergovernmental, and economic development issues. Prior to founding AILTP in 1973, Richard served in the U.S. Navy, earned a Bachelor of Science degree from San Jose State College and a law degree from Catholic University. He was also a founding board member of the Native American Rights Fund

In the previous issue of the Justice newsletter, we inadvertently printed incorrect information on the educational background of new National Support Committee member, Ada Deer. We apologize for the misinformation and would like to take this opportunity to correct ourselves

Ada Deer (Menominee) is a senior lecturer at the University of Wisconsin, and has 30 years of local, regional and national experience in the areas of social work, education, politics, Indian policymaking, and community service. Ada has a degree in social work from the University of Wisconsin and was the first woman to earn a Masters of Social Work from Columbia University. Her list of "firsts" continues. She was the first Menominee to earn a Master's degree; the first woman to be appointed as Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs in the Department of the Interior; the first American Indian woman to run for the U.S. House of Representatives and Secretary of State in Wisconsin, and the first woman Chair of the Menominee Nation

Welcome Richard and Ada!


EYAPAHA - Lakota word meaning camp crier.

Don Ragona, Director of Planned Gifts

Speaking on behalf of everyone at the Native American Rights Fund, we sincerely hope that you had a safe and joyous holiday and a happy New Year

Many exciting things have happened since our last Justice newsletter. In early November, NARF hosted a reception in honor of New York Oneida recording artist Joanne Shenandoah. Joanne was in Colorado performing a series of concerts in Fort Collins and in Boulder, and was able to come by our offices to share some of her talents. Her music is acclaimed the world over, and she was recently named the Native Female vocalist songwriter for 1998 at the Native American Music Awards held last September at the Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Ledyard, Connecticut

Joanne is a long time friend and supporter of NARF. She has contributed not only her time, but also her considerable talents. I strongly encourage you to look for Joanne's music at your local music stores under the Silverwave record label

On a more somber note, the board and staff of the Native American Rights Fund wish to send their condolences to the family and friends of Circle of Life member Genevieve Estes. Mrs. Estes, who had been a NARF member since 1975, was a resident of Santa Barbara, California. She was a woman who loved nature and was very concerned about the environment. She was also an advocate of Indian rights and was committed to NARF's work. When Mrs. Estes passed on, she made one final gift to the Native American Rights Fund. Her bequest will go a long way in preserving the past and ensuring the future of thousands of Native Americans throughout the United States. For that we are grateful

Do you have a will or other comprehensive estate planning document? I encourage you to take care of this very important matter. To assist you, NARF offers a complimentary brochure about basic estate planning. Further, if you want to talk with us about finding an attorney or how to leave a bequest to the Native American Rights Fund, please call me at 1-800-447-0784.