How much do you know about the U.S. responsibility to Indian tribes and how it frames the educational rights of Indian children? Tribal Education Sovereignty was the topic of a talk by Ms. Melody McCoy, an attorney with the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) in Boulder, Colorado. She was the guest speaker at an event on PSU campus marking the finale of National Native American Heritage Month, November 30, 2011. As a tribal education legal expert she shared insightful views on the sovereignty of Indian nations.
Ms. McCoy is one of a dozen lawyers at NARF, a nonprofit law firm working to secure rights for the 560 Native American tribes across the U.S. She works in the often murky realm between state and federal agencies that govern U.S. educational systems and the laws that recognize tribes as sovereign nations with students enrolled in public schools. Ms. McCoy also works on cases involving tribal trust funds and tribal intellectual property rights.
Ms. McCoy addressed Graduate School of Education faculty at a morning session, reviewing implications of historical federal Indian education policies dating back to the 1700s. Important federal education laws impacting native people include the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (Title I, Title III), the Indian Education Act (1972) and the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (1975).
Historically in the U.S., education was offered to native people in the form of boarding schools run by religious groups and sponsored by the government as a way to promote assimilation into the Euro-American culture. Native Americans had little or no influence on curriculum offered or institutional practices that were insensitive to American Indian culture. Over time, native people began moving off reservations and into urban areas where their children attended mainstream public schools. In fact, today more than 90 percent of the children of Native Americans attend public schools that are administered by state and local governments.
Melody McCoy is a graduate of Harvard University, the University of Michigan Law School, and is widely respected as one of the best legal minds in American Indian law and educational sovereignty of tribes. Ms. McCoy and NARF are working to improve student’s rights and ensure educational resources.