Colorado pushes for better Native American education

An exhibit in the State Capitol draws attention to new education initiatives for American Indians.

Denver exhibits and new initiatives aim at boosting graduation rates

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia this week launched an initiative to advance American Indian education in the state by unveiling two exhibits about American Indian history, art and culture.

The Denver Public Library, together with Colorado Creative Industries, is hosting “Painting the West,” an exhibit including paintings by George Catlin, who specialized in portraits of Native Americans in the Old West, and Karl Bodmer, a Swiss painter whose images are recognized as among the most accurate images of Native Americans and the scenery of the Old West.

History Colorado and Colorado Creative Industries are also presenting “Tribal Paths,” an exhibit that highlights traditions, beliefs and how the record of Colorado’s American Indians is passed down from generation to generation through ceremony, song, dance and oral histories.

The public can view the American Indian education exhibit through August 31 and the other two exhibits through December 8 at the State Capitol.

Garcia is focusing on American Indian education because in Colorado, there is a wide attainment gap between white and minority populations compared to other parts of the U.S. Unless that gap narrows, economic growth could suffer, he warned last spring while addressing the 7th annual Indian Biz Expo.

“Too many Native students don’t graduate high school and too many have decided to drop out by the eighth or ninth grade,” Garcia said.

According to the latest figures from the Colorado Department of Education, the high school graduation rate for Native American students in Colorado is 50.1 percent.

Garcia said he considers education policies of the past that favored boarding schools with forced assimilation and acculturation policies as “a source of loss rather than of growth.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper has established an education leadership council as part of the lieutenant governor’s office to deal with education issues in communities of color and low-income communities.

Similar efforts are under way in neighboring states like New Mexico, where U.S. Senator Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, will introduce legislation to increase funding to tribal schools.

“Across New Mexico, too many tribal school systems are struggling,” Udall told the Ruidoso News. “Buildings where Indian students go to school are in desperate need of renovations. School districts are unable to recruit qualified Native teachers. And with extremely tight budgets they don’t have enough resources to do their jobs. As a result, too often Native children aren’t getting the quality educations they need and deserve.”

The proposed legislation “would remove the barriers tribal leaders often encounter in teaching Native languages at schools. It would also create a tribal teacher preparation initiative to help increase the number of Native teachers and principals in the school system,” Udall said in the interview with the Ruidoso News.

New initiatives

CCIA Social Media Campaign
The Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs is conducting a social media campaign to encourage American Indian education and graduation.  It focuses on the themes of tradition, education and graduation.  The CCIA has posters and bookmarks for use in schools and the community.   CCIA solicited photographs and slogans for this campaign from the American Indian community.  It contracted with Beacon Printing, a local American Indian woman-owned firm. Several initiatives are under way.

Native American Education Round Tables

The Colorado Department of Education, with CCIA participation, held five Native American Education Round Tables for Metro Denver and Southwest Colorado Title VII (Indian Education) grantees, educational institutions, and community members to collaborate on best practices for Native American students.

American Indian History and Culture in the 2014 State Tests
The Colorado Department of Education will include American Indian history and civics in the 2014 state tests for 4th, 7th and 8th grade students. This is a three-year project just getting under way.

Indigenous Language for Credit with a Teacher Certification Waiver Program
At the request of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, the CO DOE is investigating the possibility of having the Ute language taught as an indigenous language with credit with a teacher certification waiver.  There are currently twelve states which allow this waiver.

Southwest Colorado eSchool
Students in Southwest Colorado have a new online option for earning their high school diploma in the form of Southwest Colorado eSchool.  The program has contracted with Jefferson County Public Schools, Colorado’s largest school district, to provide curriculum and teachers for the program.

College Fair at the Tri-Ute Youth Leadership Conference at Fort Lewis College
At the request of Chairwoman Pearl Casias, Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Kathay Rennels, CSU-Fort Collins and Dana Trujillo, CSU-Pueblo, have volunteered to collaborate with CCIA and Fort Lewis College to hold a College Fair in Durango at the Tri-Ute Youth Leadership Conference, August 8-10, 2011 for Ute youth ages 13-19.

Alternative Licensure Programs, Metropolitan State College of Denver
State legislation was passed to address the shortage of teachers and lack of qualified persons by allowing persons with experience in areas other than teaching to receive expedited approval for classroom teaching.  This resulted in Alternative Licensure Programs (ALP).  CCIA met with Assistant Vice President, Carol Svendsen, Director of ALP Regular Education Greg Reed, Director of APL Special Education Delia Armstrong and Suzanne Beach, on May 25, 2011, to advocate for bringing American Indian teachers into the classroom. Director Greg Reed will present at the September 12, 2011 CCIA meeting in Ignacio, Colorado.


One thought on “Colorado pushes for better Native American education

  1. Somewhat related…Can we put the remaining descendants of Native American Indians in charge of our National Parks? Let them set conservation, visitation and permit policies with their deep conviction to nature.

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