Experienced, practical advice of a large firm.
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By: Lily Crespo Esq.
Quick takeaway: OPI distributes about $3.5 million a year to school districts for Indian Education for All. (IEFA). Under state law, that money can only be used for Indian education curriculum, materials or training. Keep track of IEFA funding and consult legal counsel if you have questions about how the funding can or cannot be used.
What happened: On July 20, 2021, the ACLU sued the Montana Office of Public Instruction alleging Indian education shortcomings. The filing, brought on behalf of five Montana tribal communities and more than two dozen Indian and non-Indian students and parents, requests that a Cascade County District Court judge immediately direct OPI to establish standards for schools to comply with Indian Education for All and cooperate with tribal communities to provide educational instruction. While this case is pending, we decided to provide a quick refresher on the Indian Education for All Act and what it means for educators in Montana.
The Indian Education for All (IEFA) Act in Montana is a state constitutional mandate requiring educators to integrate American Indian content in all instruction. The Montana Legislature passed the Indian Education for All Act in 1999 to ensure every state citizen had the opportunity to gain a basic understanding of local history and information about Native peoples in Montana.
“Every educational agency and all educational personnel will work cooperatively with Montana tribes or those tribes that are in close proximity, when providing instruction or when implementing an educational goal or adopting a rule related to the education of each Montana citizen, to include information specific to the cultural heritage and contemporary contributions of American Indians, with particular emphasis on Montana Indian tribal groups and governments” (MCA 20-1-501, 1999).
What are the 7 understandings? In the early 2000s, the Montana Office of Public Instruction convened educators from each tribal nation to collaborate with regard to the subjects that should be addressed in the curricula of state educational institutions. Together, they explicated the foundation of the implementation of IEFA in the seven Essential Understandings Regarding Montana Indians. All of the efforts of the state of Montana in developing school curricula designed for the implementation of IEFA are based on the understanding expounded in that work. (“And Still the Waters Flow: The Legacy of Indian Education in Montana.” The Phi Delta Kappan, vol. 88, no. 3, 2006, p. 195)
These seven understandings are, in summary, as follows:
Best practices: Carefully document how and when Indian Education for All (IEFA) funds are used. If your school receives a small amount of funding, think about collaborating with other schools in the area to carry out this responsibility. Work with educators who have successfully implemented Indian content into their classrooms. Collaborate with tribal education departments and Indian educators. If your school is fortunate to receive a large amount of funding, it is paramount to develop a sequential plan for IEFA in your district that includes integrated and interdisciplinary curriculum in addition to ongoing, job-embedded professional development for your staff.
As you consider these and other issues, we recommend you speak with your school lawyer or contact Bea, Kevin, Megan, Beth, and Lily by email or at 406-542-1300 to discuss these issues.