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Elevating Native Student Success and Empowering Tribal Education Sovereignty: Recent and Future Work with the Northwest Tribal Educators Alliance

By By Shannon Davidson, Elijah Moreno, and Mandy Smoker Broaddus | November 19, 2018


Shannon Davidson
Shannon Davidson is a senior advisor at Education Northwest. She works on research, evaluation, and technical support projects throughout the region, with special interests in postsecondary readiness and social and emotional learning.

With the authorization of the 1972 Indian Education Act, Northwest Indian educators recognized the importance of addressing the culturally related academic needs of Indian students in the region.

To this end, they have partnered with REL Northwest on various key initiatives, including a Native Education Advisory Board, a reading series, professional development for teachers, and a variety of initiatives based on Indian education research and best practices.

Over the years, this work has led to REL Northwest being actively engaged with the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI), which represents 57 tribes.

Since 2015, members of ATNI’s Education Committee and REL Northwest have been working together to increase awareness of effective, data-driven strategies and programs for serving American Indian/Alaska Native students.

Elijah Moreno
Elijah Moreno is an advisor at Education Northwest. He provides quantitative data analysis support to various REL Northwest research projects, including those that support Native education.

Specifically, the groups have collaborated through a partnership known as the Northwest Tribal Educators Alliance (NW TEA), which also includes leaders from American Indian/Alaska Native education and community-based organizations throughout the region.

The alliance’s long-term goal is to use culturally relevant data and evidence to promote academic, social and emotional, and community success among Native students—who are legally positioned in a unique place in the U.S. education system.

Along those lines, the federal government has an overarching responsibility to advance the success, interests, and well-being of Native people, which is enshrined in various treaties and other agreements between tribes and the federal government.

Marking a Milestone

Mandy Smoker Broaddus
Mandy Smoker Broaddus is a practice expert in Indian education at Education Northwest. She has over 15 years of experience working toward social justice, equity, inclusivity, and cultural responsiveness, particularly in the realm of American Indian education.

This year, ATNI and REL Northwest signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) that will update the structure of NW TEA and advance its work.

Most importantly, the MOA demonstrates both organizations’ commitment to leveraging the strengths within Indian Country and using research-based approaches to improve the systems that serve Native students.

Specifically, the agreement recognizes that each organization offers unique expertise and skill sets, and it emphasizes that ATNI and REL Northwest can learn from each other; the MOA calls for reciprocal and simultaneous capacity building, direct engagement, and a from-the-ground-up (rather than a hierarchical) approach.

In doing so, the agreement demonstrates respect for tribal rights and tribal sovereignty, as well as commitment and accountability, making NW TEA a true partnership.

Focusing on Accurate Identification of Native Students

By valuing and leveraging each other’s strengths, ATNI and REL Northwest are building a stronger foundation for future alliance work, which will lead to greater sustainability and projects that are more responsive for stakeholders across Indian Country.

Recent REL Northwest partnership work focused on accurate identification of Native students, which has advanced the mission of NW TEA. Accurate identification and record keeping in schools are critical for ensuring the federal trust responsibility and treaty obligations are fulfilled, programs designed to meet the needs of Native students are appropriately funded, and the performance of programs meant to serve American Indian/Alaska Native students can be reliably tracked.

This work has helped NW TEA continue conversations with educators at the preschool, elementary, secondary, and postsecondary levels, with the aim of implementing and/or updating crucial policies and programs.

Going Forward

The most recent NW TEA meeting in September demonstrated the partners’ excitement to gather and share the multiple and varying voices, perspectives, and experiences represented in the alliance.

In addition, at the convening, partners began to collaboratively draft content for a resource that can be shared and used by stakeholders at various levels of the education system to reflect on and revise current Native student identification practices.

Everyone is eager to work together toward common objectives that will benefit American Indian students, communities, and tribes, and we are excited to build on the energy and commitment of all involved parties.

Looking ahead, topics of interest to NW TEA members include research or training on trauma-informed practices, supports for tribal education sovereignty, and various areas related to Native language, including Native language preservation and supports for American Indian/Alaska Native English learner students.

REL Northwest looks forward to exploring all these topics with NW TEA members and improving its engagement in Indian Country. We also invite other stakeholders involved in Indian education throughout our region to help us build on this work.