By Clara Caufield, Native Sun News Correspondent
BUSBY, Mont. – Friday, September 26 was recognized across Montana as Native American Heritage Day, a Day to recognize and celebrate Montana Native cultures, history and diversity.
However, schools on and near the Northern Cheyenne Reservation (Northern Cheyenne Tribal Schools, Lame Deer Public Schools, Chief Dull Knife College, Ashland Public Schools and St. Labre Academy, Ashland) expanded the event into Native American Heritage Week during September 22-26. Colstrip Public Schools, located near the Northern Cheyenne Reservation will observe Native American Day on October 3, 2014. Each school crowned both Princesses in recognition of the event. The contestants competed for this honor throughout the week. Schools throughout Montana observed American Heritage Day.
While still maintaining a regular schedule, students participated in a number of activities including: guest speakers; presenters (many tribal elders) who taught a wide range of traditional skills, artwork and crafts; activities such as hand games, gourd dancing, min-pow wows, “Ultimate Warrior” and tipi raising contests all capped by parades and community feasts on Friday, September 26 where each school crowned Princesses in recognition of the event. The contestants competed for this honor throughout the week. Peggy Fredricks, Lame Deer High School teacher was particularly impressed with a presentation made by Northern Cheyenne elder and ceremonial person, Tom Rockroads, Sr. who spoke about traditional values and the role of men in the tribal culture. “This is what our students need to hear,” she remarked.
In 1997, the Montana Legislature passed into law MCA 29-1-306 designating the fourth Friday in September as American Indian Heritage Day. Under this law, schools are to conduct appropriate exercises during the school day to teach all students about the rich heritage which Native Americans bring to the State.
In 1999 came the Indian Education for All Act MCA 20-1-501. This law recognizes that the current problems of Montana cannot be adequately understood or addressed unless both Indians and non-Indians have an understanding of the history, cultural and contemporary contributions of Montana’s Indian people (Legislative Report accompanying HB. 528 which became MCA 20-1-501).
The Indian Education For All Act includes the following provisions:
1) It is the constitutionally policy of this State (MT) to recognize the distinct and unique cultural heritage of American Indians and to be committed in its educational goals to the preservation of their cultural heritage.
2) It is the intent of the Legislature that in accordance with Article X, section 1(2) of the Montana Constitution:
a) Every Montanan, whether Indian or non-Indian be encouraged to learn about the distinct and unique heritage of American Indians in a culturally responsive manner;
b) Every educational agency and all educational personnel shall work cooperatively with Montana Tribes or those Tribes that are in close proximity when providing instruction or implementing an educational goal or adopting a goal related to the education of each Montana citizen, to include information specific to the cultural heritage and contemporary contributions of American Indians, with particular emphasis on Montana Indian tribal groups and tribal governments.
3) It is also the intent of this part, predicated on the belief that all school personnel should have an understanding and awareness of Indian tribes to help them relate effectively with Indian students and parents.
Norma Bixby, Director of Northern Cheyenne Tribal Education, a former State Legislator and recently elected chair of the Montana Advisory Council for Indian Education commented: “I think Montana is the lead state in implementing Indian Education for All. That curriculum is in every school in Montana. I credit Carol Juneau, a State Legislator (Mandan-Hidatsa from the Blackfeet Reservation) who carried that ground-breaking legislation. Montana is also the only state that has constitutional language specifically recognizing Native American contributions. Denise Juneau, State Superintendent of Public Instruction and a Blackfeet tribal member has provided excellent leadership in this area.”
Bixby noted that several other states such as South Dakota, Washington and New Mexico have followed Montana’s lead in the Indian Education for All initiative. Although Indian Education for All is a permanent Montana law, in each of the bi-annual sessions of the Montana Legislature, the Advisory Board, Tribes and Indian Schools have to fight for adequate funding to maintain it.
(Clara Caufield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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