The National Indian Education Association held its 35th annual Indian Education Convention in Phoenix from Oct. 28-31 at the Civic Plaza.
“Weaving a Lifetime Journey with Tradition and Education” was the conference theme and involved many Natives from many Indian Nations learning together.
The purpose of the National Indian Education Association is to support traditional native cultures and values; to enable native learners to be contributing members of their communities; to promote Native controls of educational institutions; and to improve educational opportunities and resources for American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians throughout the United States.
The NIEA Board and the Arizona Local Planning Committee worked very hard to plan many events including a Pre-Convention Summit on Indian Students, a native powwow, a Cultural Feast at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, a R. Carlos Nakai Concert, A President’s Reception for past NIEA Presidents, a reception honoring American Indian Graduate Center Alumni, current fellows and the Gates Millennium Scholars programs at Arizona State University in Tempe, an awards luncheon for Elder of the Year, Educator of the Year, and the NIEA Lifetime Achievement Award.
More than 200 sessions of Indian Education workshops were available along with educational information about many native colleges, businesses and other areas of natives in their respective professions.
This year NIEA honored their past presidents, student NIEA Board members, our veterans and our most precious resources—our elders.
William G. Demmert Jr., a Native Tlinget, was honored as the recipient of the 2nd annual NIEA Lifetime Champion of Indian Education Achievement Award. A 1973 Harvard School of Education graduate, Dr. Demmert serves as a professor of education at Western Washington University.
Professor Demmert is one of the founders of the National Indian Education Association and designed the logo we see today.
Dr. Demmert worked on the original Indian Education Act (Public Law 92-318) reorganizing the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Indian Education. He was also instrumental in adding native language to Title III and has continued to be involved in Indian Education since the early 1960s.
Other special guests included Wilma Mankiller, Cherokee Native, who has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, the International Women’s Hall of Fame and the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.
Mankiller has 18 honorary doctorates from several Oklahoma universities as well as Yale, Dartmouth and Smith Colleges. She is a trustee of the Ford Foundation and the Freedom Forum’s Newseum. She co-edited, “A Reader’s Companion to the History of Women in the United States” and she co-authored, “Mankiller: A Chief and Her People.” She is also one of a handful of Native American recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Dave Anderson, of Ojibwe and Choctaw heritage was also a keynote speaker. Anderson is the Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and is a graduate of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. As head of the BIA, Anderson oversees about 10,000 employees and the majority are Native Americans.
Anderson promotes education as a number one priority and encourages leadership Academy’s in all BIA operated educational institutions. Anderson is also a household name because of the famous Dave’s Barbeque, a restaurant helped start ten years ago.
Anderson worked for his tribe at one point, serving as Chief Executive Officer of the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Enterprise in 1982. According to the White House and his company, he helped stabilize the business, which saw revenues grow from 3.9 million to 8 million during his tenure.
Former Navajo Nation Chairman Peterson Zah was another keynote speaker. Since 1995, Zah has served as Advisor to the President on American Indian Affairs at Arizona State University in Tempe. He has helped with the recruitment and retention of American Indian students. The native population has increased from 672 students to 1,276 students. The student persistency and retention rates have also increased from 43 percent to 87 percent.
Since his arrival, these numbers represent the highest number of any major college or university in the country. Zah was also elected Chairman of the Navajo Nation Tribal Council from 1983-87.
In 1990, Zah was elected as President of the Navajo Nation. He also spends much time working with Native Exemplary Institutes and seeking bright students to challenge these areas.
A special presentation of VOICES from our Ancestors: Hopi History and the Itaa Tsatsayom Mopeqya Program was presented by Lomayumtewa Ishii, a Hopi assistant professor of history at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. Within this Hopi teacher training program, this presentation included how Hopi history has been involved in an educational curriculum.
The program maintains strong Hopi cultural survival, opposition, endurance and adjustments made to Hopi values and what steps have been taken to ensure the vitality, spirit and importance of Hopi history. A panel of various Hopi students and teachers were on hand to answer questions about the NAU Hopi curriculum. The student panel did a good job in communicating the needs of Hopi student’s in today’s educational endeavors.
Veterans & elders
Sunday’s events held a special place for the veterans and the elders of our people. The Color Guard Entry consisted of the Ira. H. Hayes American Legion Post #84 from the Gila River Indian Community.
Special honors went to the military families of the late Lori Piestewa, other fallen native heroes, Navajo Code Talkers and other natives who have served their country.
Navajo Native Ruth Roessel earned the NIEA 2004 Elder of the Year award. She has been involved in Indian Education since 1955. She is recognized on the Navajo Reservation as the individual who has always stood for learning, knowing and respecting one’s identity. She is currently the Director of the Navajo Studies Center at Rough Rock Community School in Rough Rock,.
Joyce Silverthorne, Confederate Salish and Kootenai Tribe, was recognized as the 2004 Educator of the Year. She has provided more than 10 years of service to the Montana Board of Public Education. Silverthorne has worked for the passage of legislation and implementation of educational policy to improve Indian education at the state level. She is currently the CSKT Tribal Education Director.
Another Special Keynote Speaker included United States Senator Ted Kennedy, Democrat from Massachusetts. Unfortunately Senator Kennedy was unable to attend but sent a videotaped message to the NIEA Board and attendees. Senator Kennedy stated, “I commend the NIEA Board and those attending the conference for doing a great job in overseeing the needs of our Indian students. We are a proud tradition of natives involved in Indian Education.”
(Esther Honyestewa attended the 35th annual National Indian Education Association on behalf of the Tuba City Unified School District #15 Title IX Indian Education Parent Committee. She has been a part of the committee for the past 25 years. She is now a grandparent representing her grandkids who attend TCUSD. Honyestewa is a reporter for the Hopi Tutuveni.)
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