Taos Pueblo’s director of education, Bettina Sandoval, began her job in August 2018, a month after a judge in Yazzie-Martinez’s consolidated lawsuit found that New Mexico was not providing adequate education for Indigenous students.
During that time, many advances have been made in education in the pueblo — albeit at a crawl — she said, including advances in hiring native language teachers, starting a tribal library and implementing culturally relevant curricula in nearby schools.
But there is still a long way to go in all of these areas, Sandoval said, and the pueblo needs more help to improve the education of its students.
“There just needs to be support for tribal education departments so they can grow the way they need to grow,” she told the Journal in an interview. “It cannot be mandated by the state to say, ‘This is what a tribal education department should look like.’ It has to be community based. It has to be pushed by us.”
The issues Sandoval highlighted are among tribal leaders across New Mexico, who they have long identified as priorities in the Tribal Remedie Framework, a set of educational and funding recommendations jointly developed by the vast majority of New Mexico’s sovereign nations and have been approved.
But Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, said there is still hesitation from state lawmakers and education leaders to fully accept the framework that responded to the lawsuit’s findings.
“There was a lot of apprehension about wanting to embrace this tribal healing framework, which was her idea, her gift, to try and change education for her own students,” he said.
Secretary of Education Kurt Steinhaus said the state has had several productive meetings with tribal leaders and that New Mexico shares their priorities in preserving Native American languages and cultures.
He added that the state will make sure to include the tribal leaders’ wishes in its response to the lawsuit’s findings, and that the state leaders are still willing to sit down with them about anything that has been left out.
“They are sovereign nations. And part of my humble opinion… sovereignty is respecting their knowledge and wisdom to implement educational programs that are best for Native American children,” Steinhaus said during an interview in late July.
In a presentation to the Legislative Education Study Committee on Sept. 8, heads of the state Public Education Department said the department is nearing a finish line in its plan of action to respond to the lawsuit findings.
This month, the PED will revise the action plan based on feedback it received on an earlier draft published in May. The department will submit the updated draft to stakeholders and the governor by the end of the month and release it in October or November.
Conroy Chino, a member of the Tribal Education Alliance, who contributed to the 94 total responses the PED received on its first draft, said the plan needs to have a more strategic focus — much like the programs and services offered under the tribal cures are set .
“Although it lists all of the funding and grants received from the PED, there doesn’t appear to be any real connection to goals or strategy,” he said of the draft plan. “I want the state to recognize that this tribal healing framework has validity, that it’s not just another external group that has come up with a set of strategies instead of solutions, it’s really coming from within.”
There are three main pillars of the framework, said former Cochiti Pueblo Governor Regis Pecos: building capacity in tribal communities, which includes human resources, educational programs and physical infrastructure; Implementing a culturally relevant curriculum for Indigenous students; and investing in higher education to improve the workforce pipeline, such as B. Native speakers.
The framework has been adopted by state legislatures in a number of ways, Lente conceded, such as when lawmakers passed legislation in 2019 that strengthened India’s Education Act of 2003 by requiring school districts with large numbers of Indigenous students to assess their needs and make allowances prioritize.
Earlier this year, the state Legislature also approved $12 million for tribal library planning and design, under the PED’s current draft Action Plan. Taos Pueblo recently bid for around $140,000 to design a library, Sandoval said, adding that she has yet to win the bid.
But often, funds earmarked for tribal education departments are repaid because of the bureaucracy associated with their issuance, Lente said.
That’s one of the reasons he and other proponents are proposing a $200 million to $250 million tribal education trust fund, which Lente says could be partially funded by monies returned to the general public education reform fund or the Land Grant Permanent Fund that has seen explosive growth in previous years.
The proposed trust fund, Lente told lawmakers, would essentially be a pot of money for local initiatives, from which money would be distributed each year.
“It creates a revolving fund that tribes can rely on to build capacity for building programs within their own community that are not driven by paternalistic measures of ‘We know what’s best for you, Indians, or us know how we can best teach you’. ‘ he told the Journal.
A trust fund would also help address a larger problem of initiatives, programs and funding that help some students but aren’t geared enough to do the same for those who are Indigenous, Lente said.
One example, he said, is extended study time — for which schools have collectively passed $400 million in federal funding alongside K-5 Plus programs, analysts with the Legislative Finance Committee said.
“Expanded student services are a great thing for students who live in urbanized centers who have access to a school that might be blocks away from where they live,” Lente said. “But for this student who lives…an hour bus ride away…it doesn’t work.”
This is the case with many indigenous students.
Most of them, Pecos said, commute to school on buses an hour or more from their communities. This means that when they are brought back home at the end of the day, they are a long way from the nearest educational institutions. Lente said these may include internet access.
For example, of Taos Pueblo’s roughly 275 kindergarten through 12th graders, only about 70 overall attend school in the pueblo, Sandoval said. The rest do so in the city of Taos.
Although the city is not too far away, it can be dangerous for students to walk there, making access to the public library, for example, difficult.
Because of this, educational infrastructure needs to be built on their home turf, Pecos said.
“It’s … an essential part of building new systems and institutions that are completely absent today,” he said.
While Taos Pueblo has done much to make its language accessible in education, Sandoval, who also directs the Pueblo Education Department’s language program, said she needs more support than she gets.
In the past four years, she said, the Pueblo has hired three new native language teachers to help teach Tiwa, the Pueblo’s native language. It’s a great relief, she said, because often instructors are fluent in Tiwa, but they aren’t educators.
But the pueblo needs more instructors, she said. Added to this, she added, is the struggle to develop curricula for language teaching, since Tiwa is not a written language.
The Pueblo received $50,000 for the Tiwa language curriculum this year, according to PED grant data.
But Sandoval said she needs that funding to be consistent enough.
“We need this on a regular basis – 50,000 isn’t much,” she said.
Anja Rüdiger, another member of the Tribal Education Alliance and an analyst of the Tribal Remedie Framework, said the Indian education law primarily aims to ensure equitable and culturally relevant education for tribal students.
But the law, passed nearly two decades ago, had meager resources for the associated fund until recently, she said. She added that the PED can often only award one-time, short-term grants.
“It was not an appropriate way to fund Indian education that does not receive targeted funding from other sources,” she said.
This year, the Legislature approved $15 million for the Indian Education Fund under the PED’s current draft action plan — triple the amount it received in the previous fiscal year.
“For our children to be civic ready…they also need to be fluent in their languages…they also need to know their history,” he said. “As language dies and culture declines, our children will not be able to sustain indigenous systems of government and a way of life.”
“That’s what we’re fighting for – literally for cultural survival,” he added.