Native Americans, educations, American Indians, Free Exercise Clause, First Amendment, Indian tribes, equality, self-determination, education policy, Indian Child Welfare Act, Indian Education Act, Native American Languages Act, culture


One legacy of America's mistreatment of its indigenous peoples has been an educational policy that has run roughshod over Native American Free Exercise rights. Today, American Indian tribes widely seek increased control over the education of their children. This position has received broad congressional and presidential support since the Nixon Administration, but more than twenty years later, Native Americans are still fighting to attain their goals. Federal statistics that rank American Indians as our least educated, most addicted, shortest-lived citizens suggest tremendous room for improvement in Indian education. Despite certain circuit court Free Exercise Clause decisions that unreasonably hold Indian First Amendment rights to a lower standard of protection than other religions, the Supreme Court has generally followed the trend of Congress and the President of fostering Indian self-determination. Likening Native Americans to the canaries once carried by miners to detect poison gas, Felix S. Cohen, "the Grandfather of Indian Law," characterized the Indians as a litmus test for the political health of America as a whole. In light of Cohen's apt characterization of the significance of Indian rights, our ability to preserve Native American culture has implications for the rights of all Americans. The key to Native American educational success lies with the encouragement of parental involvement, and the establishment of state-tribal compacts and tribal education departments and codes, all of which can be easily instituted for potentially tremendous gains.



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