The 2018 lawsuit Martinez-Yazzie vs. the State of New Mexico names four student groups who are not receiving an adequate education in violation of our state Constitution: the economically disadvantaged, English language learners, students with disabilities, and Native American students.
These four groups make up roughly 86% of New Mexico’s student population. Native American students, however, who make up 13% of our public school student population, deserve special support and recognition.
As a state with one of the largest Native American populations – 12.8% compared to the national average of 2.6% – New Mexico can and should be a model for Native education. Yet our Native American students continually perform behind their peers on state and national proficiency assessments. Why?
Native students, in non-Native public schools, may never see a Native teacher or counselor. They are often bussed great distances to public schools, missing out on after-school activities and enrichment opportunities. Their languages, cultures and ways of life are often ignored and undermined in school and other settings.
Native American students are reportedly expelled far more often than any other demographic group, and at least four times as often as white students. Native American youth have much higher rates of anxiety and depression and commit suicide at much greater rates than any other demographic.
Our Native American students are suffering in the current system, which does not value their languages and cultures, nor provide them with the academic skills and tools necessary for success.
Our Native American students are brilliant, creative and resilient. These statistics don’t represent what they are capable of. Rather, they represent the lack of opportunities to which they have access.
There are many barriers in a system that was designed to erase culture and language, rather than recognize them as integral to effective learning environments.
Until we prioritize Native students as multinational citizens and address our abysmal history of racism and acculturation, New Mexico will never move ahead in education rankings. Further, it is immoral for us to continue to extinguish, eradicate and acculturate Indigenous people through our inaction.
The Tribal Remedy Framework was created collectively by tribal community members and endorsed by the leadership of New Mexico’s nations, tribes and pueblos. This framework focuses on three strategic solutions: Shared responsibility and increased tribal control over the schooling of Native children; community-based education, created by and centered within tribal communities; and balanced and linguistically relevant education that revitalizes and sustains the strengths of children and their communities.
Implementation of these strategies requires a commitment to systemic change and, most importantly, a willingness to share responsibility with tribes for their children’s education at both state and local levels. Unfortunately, Native American students and the perspectives of tribal leaders are often ignored by lawmakers, districts, and even the nonprofits who are purportedly supporting them. Tribal perspective is often absent or added as an afterthought in reports and advocacy platforms.
This year, legislators have another chance to support the Framework, but is there the political will to do so? Our Native youth are disproportionately negatively impacted by current practices and our response must redress the systemic inequities that produced these inequitable outcomes. The Tribal Remedy Framework is the targeted response we need to center Native children and youth as we work to transform our education system.
The LANL Foundation is the largest education-focused nonprofit in New Mexico.