Lawsuit Seeks to Overcome Barriers for Students and Teachers


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Indian Education for All, Montana parents and tribes insist that the state responsibly implement and administer public education resources as mandated by law, which will benefit every public school student.The state of Montana is the only state with provisions in its constitution and an Indian Education for All Act (IEFA), which require public schools to work with American Indian tribes to teach all students about the heritage and history of tribes in the region. The Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation, Fort Belknap Indian Community, Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians of Montana, the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, along with several students and their parents and guardians, recently brought the Yellow Kidney et al v. Montana Office of Public Instruction (MOPI) et al, class-action lawsuit so state agencies and officials  will implement the constitutional and statutory mandates fully and consistently statewide.

Lawsuit plaintiffs know how much more the state needs to be doing to meet the law’s requirements. “I know that MOPI uploads some videos and content for teaching IEFA, however, there seems to be a break down between providing this information and teachers having and using what they need to teach students,” said lawsuit plaintiff Cammie DuPuis-Pablo (Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes), a parent of Montana public school students. “Teachers definitely need more support at the state level. MOPI needs to make sure that teachers have what they need, that schools stay on track, and that everyone is getting the IEFA curriculum right.”

The unique Montana law provisions offer substantial opportunities for public school curricula to be developed with tribal expertise and input. “Our people can share place names that date back 14,000 years. Songs, languages, and stories that have survived thousands of years have been entrusted with the current cultural leaders. Tribes can help schools embrace and apply this tribal knowledge into various disciplines, including, for example, invaluable traditional practices of caretaking forests, waters, and landscapes that will improve resource management practices for future generations of all Montanans,” said Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Chairwoman Shelly Fyant. “Many tribal educators are excited about sharing this knowledge and insight on our own terms, of course! It’s a mystery as to why there’s any obstruction: the offer to share remains.”

“This lawsuit is needed to hold the state accountable for giving school districts and educators what they need to make the positive changes promised by the law for all Montana citizens, and making sure those changes are made” said NARF Staff Attorney Melody McCoy.

NARF Staff Attorney Samantha Kelty agrees that lawsuit could help to realize a dream held for decades in the hearts of many people. “For many decades, educators, students, and families have waited for better Indian Education in the state. This lawsuit will ensure MOPI steps up and finally puts IEFA into motion the way generations of Montana visionaries have long hoped,” said Kelty.

When the state fully and properly implements the law, teachers will have greater access to curriculum developed with tribal input. In the meantime, public educators looking for resources can seek inspiration from the Indigenous science resources tribal educators at the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe have created: http://fwrconline.csktnrd.org/.

Read more about Yellow Kidney, et al. v. Montana Office of Public Instruction, et al.

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