American Indian Schools Connect
for the 21st Century
Remember President Clintons
State of the Union Address in January 1997? Its the one in
which he challenged America to connect every classroom and every
library to the Internet by the Year 2000.
Did he mean American
Indian schools, too? It would be a challenge indeed to connect all
185 Bureau of Indian Affairs schoolsserving 51,000 children
across 23 states on 63 reservationsby the year 2000.
The challenge is this:
Many of the American Indian children who go to these schools have
no electricity in their homes and little or no access to phones.
Their schools have electricity, but they certainly have no computers.
In fact, many of their communities are pretty well isolated from
the rest of the world.
Havasupai Day School,
for example, sits at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Rocky Ridge
Day School, deep in the interior of the Navajo Reservation in Arizona,
is so remote it can only receive radio telephone service.
Nevertheless, on September
26, 1999, Cibecue Community School in Cibecue, Arizona, became the
150th American Indian school to be connected to the Internet. The
school serves students in grades kindergarten through high school
on the Fort Apache Reservation.
The Goal Is All Schools
With this news, BIA also
reports 90 of the 185 schools are a part of EDNET, a special network
that connects all BIA schools. By the spring of 2000, BIA expects
to connect all 185 schools to the Internet and to EDNET.
By anybodys measure,
this will beand is alreadya remarkable achievement.
How did it come about?
It happened because President
Clinton issued an Executive Order and a personal challenge on behalf
of American Indian and Alaska Native education. It happened because
federal workers at the Department of the Interiorhome to the
Bureau of Indian Affairswere determined that American Indian
children would not be left standing empty handed on the side of
the Information Highway.
And they have not been.
Employees in BIAs Office of Indian Education Programs and
Interiors Office of Information Resources Management, along
with tribal leaders, educators, and industry volunteers are taking
part in Access Native America, a partnership that grew out of President
Clintons special challenge. Access Native America is one of
Vice President Gores 340 reinvention labs.
Companies and foundations,
starting with Microsoft in 1997, and most recently, the Global Commercial
Foundation, formed by Cabletron Systems, have made significant donations
of computer hardware and software to the effort.
Integrating Culture and Technology
on the Internet are endless, especially to children who have had
few opportunities for field trips to museums, libraries, and other
A group of BIA-funded
schools, with the help of the Office of Indian Education Programs,
received a Technology Innovation Challenge Fund Grant from the Department
of Education. For Native Americans, the tie to tradition is as important
as technology. This grant funded the 4Directions Project, which
focuses on integrating Native American culture with technology as
part of the childrens education.
The project, developed
by a consortium, includes 19 schools. It is administered by the
Laguna, New Mexico, Department of Education, but project schools
span the width of the continent, from La Push, Washington, to far
eastern Maine. This community of learners is using the Internet
to communicate, assist each other, share in the diversity of cultures,
and ensure that Native American voices are heard on the Internet.
The Potawatami American
Indian Bands in the U.S. and Canada inspired another initiative.
Over the years, the Potawatami have worked hard to preserve their
ancient language from extinction and incorporate it into the high
education standards of their classrooms.
Their efforts got a boost
from a partnership with the World Wide Web Consortium, worldwide
disabilities organizations, and Access Native America. Together,
they built the Potawatami Language Multimedia Web Textbook. The
multimedia capabilities of the web are a proving to be a perfect
tool to support the oral language tradition.
The effort has caught
on among the tribes and may have global application. It brings together
children, elders, and community members, including those with disabilities.
Even children who are blind and elders who cant "point-and-click"
a mouse, can use these lessons
Connecting to the 21st
By joining forces to
foster community solutions, BIA, academia, and industry are readying
American Indian schools and children for a 21st century
education without sacrificing closely-held values and traditions.
So, what at first seemed
almost impossible is about to be achievedalmost a quantum
leap out of isolation into the 21st Century.
And whats the worth
of it? "To look into the eyes of these children is to see the
future of the American Indian people," said Assistant Secretary
for Indian Affairs Kevin Grover.
For More Information
more information, visit:
of the Interior
of Indian Affairs
William J. Mehojah, Deputy Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs,
Office of Indian Education Programs at (202) 208-6175.