Members of Oregon’s Congressional Delegation Continue to Demand Answers Surrounding Chemawa Indian School
Congressman Kurt Schrader (OR-05), with Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and Reps. Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), and Peter DeFazio (OR-04), sent a series of letters demanding answers to questions that remain unresolved around the management of Chemawa Indian School in Salem, Oregon. Last fall, following an investigative report by Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB), the Members sent a series of initial questions to the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the Department of Interior. A response to their letter came at the end of April, but left many of their questions unanswered. In May, Reps. Schrader and Bonamici and Senators Wyden and Merkley visited the school, meeting with school administrators, Director of the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) Tony Dearman, and six of the nine federally recognized tribes in Oregon.
The Members wrote: “We are heartened by the willingness Director Dearman and Chemawa administrators expressed to work with us. However, even with your written response dated April 16, 2018, and [the May 3rd] meeting [at the school], many questions and concerns remain.”
The Members outlined 14 detailed questions for Indian Affairs that have remained unanswered, ranging from processes and policies to funding and financial oversight to the physical facilities and student wellbeing to the academic curriculum at the school. They also sent letters to the Department of Education inquiring about the withholding of Title I funding from BIE, and to Indian Health Services raising concerns about the health and safety of students at Chemawa and asking questions about health care practices and communication between the health care facilities and the school.
Additionally, in response to concerns that have been raised around retaliation against whistleblowers at the school, the Members today called on Indian Affairs to allow staff at Chemawa to speak freely to the delegation, writing: “In our [May 3rd] meeting, we were told that the Office of the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs (Indian Affairs) has a policy prohibiting direct communication between the Congressional delegation and Chemawa and BIE officials, which complicates productive and meaningful communication. We request that this policy be changed to allow BIE administrators and staff to speak freely with Members of Congress, which would make legislation to do so unnecessary.”
The Members sent three letters:
Chemawa, a Native American boarding school in Salem, Oregon, that draws students from across the country and primarily from the Western states, has been part of Oregon’s community since 1880 and has called Salem home since 1885. The school was established to teach Native American youth a variety of trades including farming, animal husbandry and other vocational skills beneficial to reservation life and culture. Over the years, the school has progressed to provide a high school education to Native students, while maintaining an environment that promotes Native American identity and tribal heritage.
OPB’s five-part investigation, which aired last fall, uncovered a web of problems plaguing the school, including tragic student deaths, a lack of support for students, poor academic results, blowback against whistleblowers, allegations of nepotism, and an overall concerning lack of transparency.
Read all three of the letters below.
The Honorable John Tahsuda III
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20240
Dear Mr. Tahsuda,
On May 3, 2018, we held a meeting at Chemawa with Director of the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) Tony Dearman, Chemawa Superintendent Lora Braucher, several Chemawa administrators, and tribal leaders from seven of the nine federally recognized tribes in Oregon. Our discussions were wide-ranging and covered many of the concerns raised in a letter we wrote to you in November 2017.
We are heartened by the willingness Director Dearman and Chemawa administrators expressed to work with us. However, even with your written response dated April 16, 2018, and this meeting, many questions and concerns remain. In an effort to keep the conversation moving in a positive direction, we request that you allow staff at Chemawa as well as staff at BIE to speak freely with us. In the meantime, we request your timely response to the following questions:
We support Chemawa’s mission to provide opportunities for success to Native high school students from across the country, and their focus on academic and cultural education, college readiness, and workforce training. We look forward to working with you, the Bureau of Indian Education, the staff and students at Chemawa, and our tribal leaders and thank you for your attention to our questions.
The Honorable Betsy DeVos
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC 20202
Dear Secretary DeVos:
We write today regarding the Department of Education’s (“Department”) decision to withhold the Bureau of Indian Education’s (BIE) fiscal year 2017-2018 Title I, Part A (Title I) funding.
As part of the federal trust responsibility to American Indians, the BIE has a duty to provide American Indian children with a high-quality education that honors tribal cultures and traditions. According to the National Indian Education Association, “the federal trust responsibility includes a fiduciary obligation to provide parity in access to all American Indian and Alaska Native students, regardless of where they attend school.”
Currently, BIE supports 183 elementary and secondary schools and dormitories in 23 states. In addition to funding from the Department of Interior, BIE receives funding from the Department in accordance with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Under ESEA, Title I funding is allocated to schools and school districts to help low-income students succeed in K-12 education and beyond. This funding is a vital resource to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for more than 40,000 American Indian and Alaska Native children attending BIE schools, including students at Chemawa Indian School in Salem, Oregon.
In April 2018, the Department announced a tribal consultation regarding the BIE’s oversight and administration of federal programs funded through the Department. The Department did not publish notice of the consultation in the Federal Register, as required. BIE was not in attendance and was not included in the planning of the consultation. In addition, the announcement for this consultation stated that the Department is withholding $1.6 million in Title I funding because the BIE missed the October 2, 2017 deadline for the ESSA negotiated rulemaking committee.
On October 26, 2017, the BIE completed the required action by submitting the names of the nominees for the negotiated rulemaking committee. Further, on April 17, 2018, the BIE announced the proposed members to form the negotiated rulemaking committee. The Department, however, continues to withhold BIE’s Title I funding.
The Department should be working with the BIE to adhere to the federal trust responsibility to provide all American Indian students the opportunity to learn and achieve academic success. We are concerned that the withholding of BIE’s Title I funding will affect the BIE’s ability to provide a high-quality education to American Indian students. In Oregon, American Indian students face many education challenges, including low graduation rates, low standardized test scores, and a widening achievement gap. Additionally, we are also concerned about the Department’s lack of communication and consultation with the BIE and tribal leaders. To address our concerns, we request your response to the following questions:
Thank you for your prompt attention to this issue; we look forward to hearing from you.
Michael D. Weahkee, Director
Department of Health and Human Services
Indian Health Service
5600 Fishers Lane
Rockville, MD 20857
Dear Director Weahkee:
On May 3, 2018, we held a meeting at Chemawa Indian School with Director of Indian Education, Tony Dearman, Chemawa administrators, and tribal leaders from seven of the nine federally recognized tribes in Oregon. A number of issues were discussed, including the health and safety of Chemawa students.
As you are likely aware, there have been two student deaths on campus in the last fifteen years and a number of other health and safety incidents. Our understanding is that Chemawa administrators feel like they lack the necessary health information about the students to keep them safe and healthy on campus. Because Indian Health Services’ Western Oregon Service Unit is housed at Chemawa and is the primary source of healthcare for students, collaboration with IHS is critical. To this end, our offices would like to ask the following questions:
We believe that Chemawa Indian School wants to improve the health and well-being of their students and we support them in this effort. We look forward to working with you, the staff and students at Chemawa, and our tribal leaders as we work toward this goal together. Thank you for your attention to our questions, we look forward to your response.
Tags: Oregon First