Jason Salsman/Multimedia Producer
National JOM Association holds annual conference at River Spirit
TULSA, Oklahoma — Indian education is under attack.
That was the grim, albeit honest, assessment Ahniwake Rose gave when addressing the crowd gathered at the River Spirit Casino Resort for the National Johnson O’ Malley Association’s annual conference April 9-11.
Rose, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation with Muscogee (Creek) lineage, is the executive director of the National Indian Education Association.
“Native people really need to be advocating right now, especially around education,” Rose said. “We’re looking at really being under attack on two fronts. We are seeing decreases in the (Bureau of Indian Education) budget in a way that we have not seen at least in the past decade.”
Rose added she is “incredibly concerned” about a move to voucher the BIE school systems. There are conversations taking place in Washington, D.C. now that could possibly shift impact aid and BIE schools to working under a voucher system.
Rose believes such a move would be a fatal blow.
“It would decimate our schools and is a complete eradication of the trust responsibility,” Rose said.
Former U.S. Congressman J.C. Watts, whose company Watts Partners has lobbied for JOM at the federal level for years, gave the keynote address April 10 and spoke of his upbringing and how it helped him understand how vital JOM funding is.
“When you talk the Native American community to J.C. Watts, it’s about relationships,” Watts said.
Watts grew up in Eufaula and mentioned his love and admiration for what his coach, Mvskoke Hall of Famer Perry Anderson, meant to his life. Watts also grew up with Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief James Floyd and MCN Secretary of Education Greg Anderson.
“It is somewhat ironic that we’re all connected now through JOM. But at the same time there was a connection long before any of us knew what JOM was,” Watts said. “The older I got the more blessed I realized I was to be able to experience different cultures, but same values.”
Both Rose and Watts noted the coincidence of this year’s NJOMA Conference landing in Tulsa during a teacher walkout in response to inadequate education funding that has dominated state and nationwide headlines.
Rose said this week NIEA released a statement in support of Oklahoma teachers and their actions.
“When you look at budget cuts within a state, it’s Indian students that are going to be impacted the most,” Rose said. “NIEA is very much in favor of making sure our schools are funded how they are supposed to be and that teachers receive the much-needed critical funding that they need because our students deserve nothing better than schools and teachers that are performing at a level that they are supposed to be.”
Watts said issues such as the one currently facing the state only magnify the value of JOM.
“JOM is an effort that augments public school funding,” Watts said. “At an interesting time in Oklahoma, JOM is still chugging along supplementing public school funding.”