Minneapolis Indian Education program faces challenges of poverty, homelessness, history
Condensed by Native Village

Students at Anishinabe Academy High Five program

The 2,000 Native American students attending Minneapolis Public Schools face a 92% poverty rate.
At Anishinabe Academy, the city-wide Native American magnet school, more than 30% of its students are homeless at any given time during the school year.
These are only a few of the hurdles Native students face on their road to academic and personal success.

Minnesota:  In 1972, the Minneapolis Public School District (MPSD) created an Indian Education Program to serve Native American students and their families. The program focuses on integrating academic rigor with cultural responsiveness for all Native kids.

Danielle Grant, the current program director, brings both forward-looking and historic perspectives to her work. She admits many Native families don't trust school and government systems. This “historical trauma,” she says, is connected to the times when Native children were removed from their homes and tribes to attend boarding schools meant to destroy indigenous ways of life.

Grant said it's important to help families face this traumatic past, and attempt to heal.

For two years, Minneapolis parent Comanche Fairbanks has co-chaired the district’s Title 7 Committee for Native American parents.  He credits the committee and Ms. Grant for greatly improving Native parents’ access to, and understanding of their rights, within Minneapolis Public Schools.

Fairbanks also credits Deanna Standingcloud, the Indian Education parent engagement coordinator. He says she's done a good job of directly informing and engaging district parents. She's provided both a forum for the voices of Native parents and made school district processes more transparent.

As a parent and educational consultant, though, Fairbanks is dismayed by the educational options for his children. While his younger children have done well at elementary school, Fairbanks is educating his oldest child -- who would be in 9th grade -- at home. Fairbanks is discouraged by the high rates of Special Ed. diagnoses for Native children. He believes these children are only “misunderstood.”

Instead, Fairbanks wishes teachers were “more aware of the learning styles” of Native children. These involve “experiential, practical,” and “hands-on learning." Instead, high schools focus on “standards” taught in classrooms where teachers are authority figures and students are expected to be passive.

Fairbanks believes Native high school students are at the age when they are ready to dig deep, explore, and find a passion of their own. Instead, public schools force-feed knowledge and what it means to be good students. In Fairbanks’ experience, this causes many Native students to become “resistant” learners.

Grant is also aware of this issue and considers teacher training a very important part of her program’s mission.  While many other Indian Education programs focus on students, she said MPSD puts a strong emphasis on educating teachers about “best practices for teaching Native students.”

Teachers learn how to make their lessons more “experiential, applicable,” and “relevant,” which matches well with what parent Comanche Fairbanks says he would like to see in the schools.