In a landmark decision that marks a turning point for indigenous education in Nevada, Governor Joe Lombardo inked a bill into law which apportions millions to replace the decrepit Owyhee Combined School, located on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation. This historical development is seen as a beacon of hope for the indigenous communities who have faced long-standing negligence.
A Battle for A Safer Learning Environment
Earlier this year, a horde of tribal members, leaders, and students had stormed the Nevada state Capitol demanding funding for the replacement of the Owyhee Combined School. Built in 1953, the school was plagued by severe infrastructural issues, including a bat infestation in the ceiling, bullet-ridden glass windows, and a dilapidated bathroom used by strangers as a rest stop.
However, the most alarming issue was the school’s unsettling proximity to highly toxic hydrocarbon plumes, which have been associated with an increased number of cancer cases within the reservation. This pushed the school to the forefront of concerns for the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Reservation.
Unveiling a New Chapter in Tribal Education
Vice Principal Lynn Manning-John recognized the gravity of this achievement, stating that the existing facility, built under a time of oppressive policies, “no longer serves us”. She expressed that the new school “promises hope” for the tribal community’s future.
Allocation of Funds and Expected Developments
Governor Lombardo’s signed bill allocates a whopping $64.5 million for the construction of the new school. It’s co-sponsored by Democratic Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno and is expected to take three years to complete. Moreover, the bill introduces new avenues for funding tribal and rural schools in the state. It creates a $25 million account for capital projects in schools and earmarks another $25 million specifically for schools on tribal lands.
Impact on Other Rural Schools
This isn’t just a victory for the Duck Valley Indian Reservation. The bill’s provision could also be a lifeline for other schools, like the Schurz Elementary School on the Walker River Reservation. Andrea Martinez, Walker River Paiute Tribe Chairwoman, emphasized how the funding would revolutionize their community, and mentioned their commitment to “thinking about the next seven generations”.
Empowering Indigenous Communities Through Education
This bill is a testament to the tireless efforts of many. Teresa Melendez, a tribal lobbyist and organizer, noted that these schools have endured neglect for decades. With the bill in effect, there’s an opportunity to tackle various issues such as the teacher shortage, housing, and culturally insensitive curriculum.
Tribal leaders and principals are reportedly mulling over feasibility studies to establish new tribal school districts in Nevada. This could herald a more streamlined funding and curriculum plan across the state’s four reservation-based schools.
The Youth: Catalysts for Change
Brian Mason, chairman of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes, attributed the bill’s success to the relentless efforts of the youth, who braved long trips to engage with legislators. He urged lawmakers to empathize with the tribal communities.
Governor Lombardo seconded these sentiments and commended the youth for their unwavering commitment, and remarked that he was “so proud of the youth for making these long trips, meeting with legislators and making this a true learning experience.”
Conclusion: A Step Towards an Equitable Future
The signing of this bill symbolizes a colossal leap toward providing the tribal communities of Nevada with an equitable and inclusive educational experience. It’s a testament to the relentless efforts of the tribal community and a promise for a brighter and more prosperous future. By addressing the pressing issues faced by the Owyhee Combined School and other rural schools, Nevada sets an example for the rest of the nation in prioritizing and uplifting indigenous education.