Montana Constitution Commits to Preserving Indian Cultural Heritage

On this day (June 6) in 1972, Montana citizens ratified a new state Constitution that included provisions to preserve Indian cultural heritage. The new constitution replaced the 1889 constitution. Article X: Education and Public Lands now reads:

Section 1. Educational goals and duties. (1) It is the goal of the people to establish a system of education which will develop the full educational potential of each person. Equality of educational opportunity is guaranteed to each person of the state. 
(2) The state recognizes the distinct and unique cultural heritage of the American Indians and is committed in its educational goals to the preservation of their cultural integrity. …

According to the Wikipedia entry on Montana, it is the only state with such a constitutional mandate. The entry goes on to say that Montana’s “Indian Education for All Act”:

mandates schools teach American Indian history, culture, and heritage to from preschool through college. For kindergarten through 12th grade students, an “Indian Education for All” curriculum from the Montana Office of Public Instruction is available free to all schools. Montana is also the only state that has a fully accredited tribal college for each Indian reservation.

Minnesota has passed a number of laws concerning Indian education, but has not elevated it in importance to a constitutional mandate. Minnesota statutes 124D.71 to 124D.85 are called the American Indian Education Act. It passed in 1977, following major federal Indian education initiatives. Minnesota Statute 124D.72 lays out the broad state policy:

The legislature finds that a more adequate education is needed for American Indian people in the state of Minnesota. The legislature recognizes the unique educational and culturally related academic needs of American Indian people. The legislature also is concerned about the lack of American Indian teachers in the state. Therefore, pursuant to the policy of the state to ensure equal educational opportunity to every individual, it is the purpose of [this Act] to provide for American Indian education programs specially designed to meet these unique educational or culturally related academic needs or both.

Later on, the Act says the Indian Education program should: “make the curriculum more relevant to the needs, interests, and cultural heritage of American Indian pupils …. provide positive reinforcement of the self-image of American Indian pupils… [and] develop intercultural awareness among pupils, parents, and staff…”

It is beyond the scope of this blog to evaluate new state efforts to improve Indian education. But it is fair to say that in spite of the statute, Native American students continue to lag significantly behind their peers on key measures of educational success.  A 2013 report by MinnCAN noted that “Minnesota has the lowest on-time high school graduation rate for Native students in the United States.” Among the approaches the report recommended from a review of successful schools was to integrate indigenous history, culture and languages in the curriculum (a recurring theme).

For more on the state’s program, see the Minnesota Department of Education’s Indian Education website.

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