This Day in History: Report on Indian Education Seeks Greater Indian Autonomy

On this day in history, 39 years ago on September 2, 1976, the Report on Indian Education was issued to the American Indian Policy Review Commission.  The nearly 400-page report reviews nearly 400 years of Indian education policy and looks forward. I have only skimmed the front of the report, but a few highlights show themes that will still resonate today, such as the need for more Indian control of Indian education and the need to respect for Indian cultural values. For instance, in the summary section, the report states:

Education is the arena in which not only academic and vocation skills but culture, mores, and social values are transmitted to the student.

These institutions are molded clearly according to the American society’s values and goals. Instead of education being used as a tool for developing the goals, aspirations, and skills of Indian people for themselves and their communities, American Indians have found themselves attending institutions organized and operated either by the federal or state government.

Many of the social and economic ills prevalent in the Indian communities today, and attendant problems of Indian students can be clearly traced to such educational institutions. [Page 3]

The recommendations summary section concludes with this paragraph:

The last major policy review of Indian affairs was in 1928 — some forty-eight years ago. Since that time, very little has changed in Indian education. The types of schools are the same, and the federal agencies administering the services and the programs are the same. Limited respect for Indian culture and limited development of Indian curriculum has been initiated. Yet, surveys, studies, and investigations have occurred with growing momentum each year. It is time for the U.S. Congress to realize that it has been grossly negligent in the area of policy making and financing for Indian education. Congress has given Indians piecemeal efforts and totally inadequate financing in this area. They have abdicated Congressional intent to administrative discretion. At the beginning of the new Bicentennial year, Congress should declare a policy of support and financing for Indian community control of all aspects of Indian education. The obligation and right to an education which all Indians feel they have from the Congress and the federal government should be fulfilled. [Page 13, Emphasis in the original.]

The Task Force was headed by Helen Maynor Scheirbeck, a member of the Lumbee Tribe in North Carolina and long-time champion of Native American civil rights.

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