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Lawmakers hear plan to fund, provide American Indian education to all Minnesota students

Rep. Heather Keeler presents HF1875, an American Indian education bill, to the House Education Finance Committee March 16. Rep. Alicia Kozlowski, left, also offered bill support. (Photo by Catherine Davis)
Rep. Heather Keeler presents HF1875, an American Indian education bill, to the House Education Finance Committee March 16. Rep. Alicia Kozlowski, left, also offered bill support. (Photo by Catherine Davis)

Education for and about Indigenous Minnesotans has been lackluster for years, say advocates who’ve long pushed the Legislature to make improvements in curriculum and investments in greater resources.

2023 might finally be their year.

“I’ve never seen a teacher at the front of a classroom that ever has looked like me, nor have I ever sat in classrooms that taught about us accurately,” said Rep. Heather Keeler (DFL-Moorhead).

Education finance panel considers HF1875 3/16/23

She sponsors HF1875, a large package of proposals that would address this lack of representation by revamping and expanding Indigenous education to all students across the state.

Following a Thursday hearing in the House Education Finance Committee, the package was laid over for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill.

Much of Keeler’s proposal matches language in an omnibus bill passed out of the House Education Policy Committee last Friday. Key policy provisions that have already garnered support in the House include:

  • embedding Indigenous education into the state’s academic standards during the next 10-year review;
  • providing “historically accurate, Tribally endorsed, culturally relevant” resources for schools to implement this new curriculum;
  • requiring American Indian culture and language classes in schools with sufficient numbers of Indian students as defined in the bill;
  • prohibiting schools from using Indian symbols or names as mascots; and
  • affirming the rights of Indigenous students to wear tribal regalia at graduation ceremonies and to “carry a medicine pouch containing loose tobacco intended as observance of traditional spiritual or cultural practices” while in school.

Thursday’s hearing detailed specific appropriation requests to accomplish these goals in the coming biennium, including:

  • almost $40 million for American Indian education aid;
  • nearly $15 million for native language revitalization grants to schools for courses in Dakota, Anishinaabe, and other Indigenous languages; and
  • $2.81 million for Indian teacher training program grants to assist American Indians pursue a career in teaching.

Glenda Martin, tribal leader of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, noted many of the bill’s proposals have been circulating around the Capitol for five to six years.

“The bill is essential for American Indian students,” she said. “We need to break the cycle of ignorance for all Minnesotans.”

She believes passing this package will help close opportunity gaps for Indigenous students, while exposing non-native students to the history and culture of Minnesota’s 11 tribal nations.

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