Nevis School plans American Indian student recount

Members of the Nevis School's American Indian Parent Advisory Committee want the district to recount its American Indian students to address parent concerns.

The American Indian Parent Advisory Group at Nevis School want parents to know that if they believe their child's enrollment form inaccurately portrays their ethnic or racial heritage they have the right to change it. (Lori Skarpness/Enterprise)

Members of the Nevis School's American Indian Parent Advisory Committee want the district to recount its American Indian students to address parent concerns.

Superintendent Gregg Parks said he is in favor of a recount, but doesn't know all of the details.

Schools with 20 or more American Indian students enrolled receive $20,000 in American Indian Education money, plus an additional $358 for every student over 20.

The state Minnesota Automated Reporting Student System (MARSS) report showed Nevis had 15 American Indian students last Oct. 1, due to the way ethnicity/race information is entered in the system. Unofficial staff and parents' counts estimate there were actually between 21 and 30 enrolled.

Parents at an April 1 advisory committee meeting said they didn't realize how their child's ethnicity/race was reported to the state.


Carmen Arellano, who is an enrolled member of the Leech Lake Tribe, has three children at Nevis School. She said she was surprised to learn recently that her children, who she identified on the school enrollment form as white, Hispanic and American Indian, were only classified in the state reporting system as Hispanic.

That's because of how the state MARSS reporting system works.

"I was wondering why I wasn't invited to the American Indian advisory committee meetings, and I found out it was because my kids are listed as Hispanic," she said.

Arellano checked with the state and learned that if the Hispanic box is checked, that child is automatically reported as Hispanic on the MARSS report. If any other two boxes for ethnicity are checked, the child is counted as "Two or More Races." That means they are not counted in the individual races, such as American Indian, African American or whatever other races were checked.

"The enrollment form gathers information by asking parents to check boxes that best describe their child," she said. "But you are only considered American Indian if that is the only box you check. All these years, I thought my children were counted in as many boxes as I checked."

Arellano said she wants to get the word out to parents so they can make an informed choice about how they want their child identified on the enrollment form and know that they have the right to change their form if they believe it inaccurately portrays their heritage.

Parents who believe their forms are inaccurate should go to the district office and tell MARSS coordinator Lynne Gustafson they want to correct the race/ethnicity box.

"They should go in and do this as soon as possible," she said. "That is a parent's choice how they check their child's boxes. Those boxes matter. It's not the district's fault. As a parent, too, I didn't know. I'm not blaming the district. It's the state. Everyone I talked to is upset with how the state hasn't been counting American Indians if they check more than one box for ethnicity. It affects everybody, not just American Indians. Now that we know how we are being reported, we can inform parents of that choice. There are people at the state level working on reforming this whole system."


Students from birth and up who are on an individualized education plan are also counted, as are all pre-K students.

Arellano said some parents told her they thought their children needed to be enrolled members of a tribe to check the American Indian box.

That is not true on this form, which defines a American Indian as "a person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America and who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment."

"That could mean going to powwows or knowing a great grandparent was American Indian," she said. "Many American Indian families were confused on how to qualify due to tribal and federal regulations."

Due to this, she said the actual number of American Indian students in Nevis is higher than the reported number.

"My three were classified as Hispanic. I am allowed to change my forms any time and I did. We didn't turn Indian yesterday," Arellano said.

A new member of the advisory committee, Arellano said she hopes American Indian Education funding could help her children learn about their Native and cultural identity.

The American Indian Advisory Committee is working to inform parents of their right to change their form if they feel it misrepresents their ethnicity/race.


Appeal process to address inaccuracies

"I am not too familiar with the requirements of the recount and the timelines that go along with it," Parks said Thursday. "I have contacted the Minnesota Department of Education's American Indian Education Department and they have not gotten back to me. We are excited about the opportunity to increase cultural awareness for our entire student body. Our American Indian Parent Advisory Committee team has proposed using any funding we receive to pursue cultural awareness training for staff and students and to build our American Indian cultural curriculum. We have used our student data to identify that we need to focus more on reading and mathematics achievement with our American Indian students. We will use the data to suggest any programming changes, such as after-school tutoring, college visits and ACT preparation."

"I'm happy the superintendent is planning to do the recount," Arellano said Thursday. "I believe we have the numbers here in Nevis, we just do not have an accurate report of those numbers. In order to have this American Indian Education money for next year, 2019-20, we need to correct our numbers. The Department of Indian Education is on board with this appeal."

The American Indian Advisory Committee, the staff and the school board all work together to see how American Indian Education Aid will be used. Funds may be used for activities that promote cultural inclusion, such as a trip to the Festival of Nations or a powwow or one-to-one tutoring for American Indian students.

The committee is chaired by Mel Buckholtz who is an enrolled member of the Lac du Flambeau Nation in Wisconsin and made up of American Indian parents and students. School teachers and administrators also attend the meetings.

Arellano explained that the next steps in the funding process are a letter of intent from the district for developing American Indian programming due June 1 and a program plan for how the district plans to spend the money due Oct. 1.


Sharing Native culture in the school


The American Indian Parent Advisory Committee has discussed some ways to include more American Indian Culture in the Nevis School curriculum.

Parks has already approved diversity awareness training for teachers in August with presenter George Goggleye who is the Human Services Director for the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.

Books by American Indian authors have been added to the media center. The district is also hoping to bring in a large "Treaties Matter" exhibit and curriculum for grades 5-10 for the coming school year.

Arellano had a table at the spring parent-teacher conferences to spread the word about the advisory committee, give samples of fry bread and show three of the four Native medicines: sweet grass, sage and cedar. She said some school districts get a waiver allowing the fourth medicine, tobacco, in schools for cultural events.

Feedback from parents on the committee included education for both teachers and students about American Indian traditions, such as ricing or netting (fish) being excused absences, knowing males having long hair for cultural reasons and education about American Indian heritage and customs.

"This will benefit everybody," Arellano said. "Teachers will be more culturally aware, and it will also help students who are struggling with their American Indian identity."

"Some people are lost because they don't know what that (being American Indian) means," said American Indian co-chair Dawn Klier, who grew up on Leech Lake.

The next American Indian Parent Advisory Council meeting is at 4 p.m. Monday, May 6 in the school media center. The group meets the first Monday of each month and anyone interested in learning about American Indian issues is welcome to attend.

Lorie Skarpness has lived in the Park Rapids area since 1997 and has been writing for the Park Rapids Enterprise since 2017. She enjoys writing features about the people and wildlife who call the north woods home.
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