Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.
Native American students attending school in Michigan will no longer be boxed in when they identify their race and ethnicity.
Previously, these students were able to choose between two boxes to check— American Indian or Alaska Native —on forms provided through the Michigan Department of Education. But, these options did not provide leaders of the state’s 12 federally recognized Tribes with detailed information about their students' achievement or graduation rates, and federal funds were left on the table as a result, says Jamie Stuck, Chairperson of the Nottawasepi Huron Band of the Potawatomi and President of the United Tribes of Michigan.
“When you have tribal students who have already had an adverse tribal experience and they’re not being counted, it can do more damage,” Stuck says. “This can make them feel like they’re not being counted which makes them feel like we don’t care about their education or welfare.”
Jamie Stuck, NHBP Tribal Council Chairperson, is a newly appointed member of the Tribal Advisory Committee that works with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
He and other tribal leaders on the MDE’s Indigenous Education Initiative Team (MDE-IEI)
began working with officials from the Michigan Department of Education four years ago to allow students to identify their tribal affiliation by checking the appropriate boxes. Their work is in partnership with the Confederation of Michigan Tribal Education Departments (CMTED), which is taking the lead in addressing the essential questions that must be answered as Michigan prepares to usher in a new era of data collection, says Martin Ackley, MDE spokesperson.
Their efforts resulted in the creation of the new Tribal Affiliation Reporting Policy which is expected to be rolled out in the 2024-25 school year when all Michigan public school districts and charter schools will be required to collect tribal affiliation data. The state has set aside $3 million to make sure that schools are equipped to do this.
The data will be submitted to the state’s Center for Educational Performance Initiative (CEPI)
In a written statement to On the Ground Battle Creek, leadership with CMTED says they understand the significance of collecting tribal affiliation data in Michigan's public education system.
“By focusing on Tribal affiliation data, tribal nations can customize supports for learners in unprecedented ways, leveraging the power of data collection. This will provide us with more thorough insights into how to best uplift our students, identifying their strengths and addressing any deficiencies within the education system,” the statement says.
“CMTED embraces this opportunity to establish a legacy of educational excellence for future generations. We affirm the inherent right of educational sovereignty of tribes while reinforcing the requirement of Tribal Consultation and our tribes' right to actively participate in meaningful collaboration. In doing so, we honor the wisdom of our ancestors and further their vision toward a future where educational equity, cultural preservation, and excellence go hand in hand.
"We commit to the partnership with the Michigan Department of Education’s Indigenous Education Initiative, the Center for Educational Performance and Information(CEPI), and the guidance of our elected tribal leaders to accomplish this endeavor. This is not just a data collection requirement; it is a testament to our shared commitment to a more informed, inclusive Michigan."
Not every state putting this new data collection model in place has sought input from tribal leaders, Stuck says.
“This is a transformative step forward, one that reflects our commitment to providing a high-quality education for all Michigan students, inclusive of our Indigenous communities,” Ackley says. “The collection of tribal affiliation data is a significant development in Michigan that reinforces the state’s commitment to honoring Indigenous communities and will help ensure the equitable education of all students.”
The most recent data shows that less than 1/3 of the actual number of Native American students is currently accounted for in public school systems throughout the state. During the 2022-23 school year, 8,448 American Indian and Alaska Native students were counted among students enrolled in Michigan’s public schools. This was .59 percent of total enrollment numbers; however, an MDE analysis shows that more than 27,000 tribal-affiliated students are estimated to be enrolled in the state’s public schools.
Stuck says the number of officially counted Native students is often undercounted because of the number of these students whose options are limited to checking boxes identifying them as American Indian or Alaska Native and checking at least one other race or ethnicity.
“These students are categorized as ‘two or more races’ for data collection purposes which effectively erases their Native categorization,” he says.
Under the new policy, students can select their tribal affiliation. This will give a more accurate accounting of the Indigenous student population and will allow the state to provide education data to tribal leaders about students affiliated with their tribes no matter where in Michigan they attend classes.
“Through the collection of tribal affiliation data, we will gain the vital information needed to assess the impact of the public education system on Indigenous learners within our own communities,” Stuck says in a press release. “This additional data will support enhanced partnerships between Tribal nations, the state, and local school districts that prioritize the needs of Indigenous learners.”
Knowing the precise number of students in particular tribes opens the possibility for schools to get more grants from programs like Title VI Indian Education and the Johnson-O’Malley Indian Education program
, according to an article on the Education Week website
Stuck says when thousands and thousands of Indigenous students are missing from the headcount, that Title VI funding is going unused.
“You have a lot of people that are experts on Title I. There’s people in districts responsible for keeping that going,” says Alex Red Corn, Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at Kansas State University, in the article. “Those same districts don’t even know what’s in Title VI of the Indian Education Act, which annually affords roughly hundreds of grants to help Native students and educators.”
Red Corn’s family is part of the Osage Nation. He has been consulting with tribal leaders in Kansas on the possibility of data-sharing agreements that could be of value.
In Michigan, where tribal leaders have had ongoing concerns about inaccurate or incomplete data measuring their children’s learning and academic performance, Stuck calls the new data collection policy “huge.” Christina Sharp, a member of CMTED, agrees.
“Our ancestors laid the foundation for our Tribal nation’s future,” she says in a press release. “They recognized the role that high-quality education contributed to our collective development. They understood that a comprehensive education system encompasses Western knowledge and our invaluable Indigenous knowledge systems. Through the harmonious integration of these knowledge systems, we can genuinely thrive and build as Tribal nations.”