High school graduation rates for Minnesota’s American Indian students have climbed by more than 5 percentage points since 2012. But the improved figure shows just how much work lies ahead to help these students realize their promise — a goal every Minnesotan should share in an economy increasingly powered not by muscle but by brainpower.
In 2017, 50.7 percent of the state’s Indian/Alaska Native students got their diplomas — up from 45.4 percent five years before. But these students still lag far behind when it comes to this important education milestone. Overall, 82.7 percent of Minnesota students completed high school, according to the latest state data released earlier this year.
Addressing the disheartening disparity is an arduous but critical assignment that Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration merits credit for tackling. Among its efforts: successfully advocating for funding boosts for young Indian learners in public and the federally run Bureau of Indian Education schools. During his last year in office, Dayton is adding to his efforts with a welcome innovation: a pioneering tribal youth leadership summit.
The summit, announced this spring, is touted by Dayton’s office as a “first-in-the-nation” state-level gathering for Indian students. It will be held July 27 at the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus and will bring together “youth ages 14 to 24, tribal and state leaders, civic and business leaders, and educational organizations to focus on challenges facing Native American youth,” according to the governor’s office. The Bush Foundation provided a $25,000 grant for the event.
A student gathering like this just makes sense. Minnesota is home to seven Anishinaabe (Ojibwe, Chippewa) reservations and four Dakota (Sioux) communities. The challenges their young people face are formidable. Poverty, addiction and crime too often plague the rural and urban places they call home.
The summit, an outgrowth of former President Barack Obama’s Generation Indigenous outreach initiative, offers Minnesota’s young leaders a chance to learn about advocacy and connect with political and business contacts they’ll need to make a change for the better. A steering committee that includes young delegates selected by Minnesota’s 11 tribal nations is spearheading planning for the day to ensure that topics covered are relevant and accessible.
But the value of the youth gathering goes beyond enhanced advocacy skills. This event, particularly with the governor’s involvement, sends a powerful message to these students: Minnesota sees your potential. Instead of lamenting disparities, key leaders in attendance want your input, they want to get to know you and they want to work with you to improve the lives of your family and friends. Progress must be made, the work ahead is hard, but partners await to help you.
Registration for the summit is still open and can be done online at https://tinyurl.com/y9unj666. Teachers, parents, families and friends: Please encourage young people to apply. Minnesota expects great things from its next generation of Native leaders. This gathering will give them a running start.