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BIE Schools Celebrate Native American Heritage Month All Year Round

Students dancing in regalia.

Bureau of Indian Education-funded schools across the United States celebrate Native American Heritage Month throughout November. Staff and students recognize the vibrant cultures, history and language of the many Tribes BIE schools serve through the culturally relevant curriculum outlined in the Bureau’s mission.

Tamatane I'atala, Timothy Begaye, and Dmitriy Neezzhoni support Bureau-funded schools as cultural and education program specialists. They help teachers develop language programs, add to their curriculum, and learn new technology to better serve the students.

“The more we prepare (our students) with who they are and their cultural identity, I’ve learned that they have a greater sense of self-worth and self-confidence, and they recognize that they have not just a seat at the table, but oftentimes, they should be leading those discussions,” I’atala said.

That preparation is not limited to Native American Heritage Month but lasts all year. The specialists spend time at BIE schools across 64 reservations. The staff engages students in their cultures by hosting activities such as traditional cooking, making medicine bags, and much more.

Begaye said it makes sense to celebrate Native American Heritage Month in BIE schools because the students connect with it.

“It traces their history, and it emphasizes the importance of who they are and how they identify as Native in these Tribal communities. And I think it gives them a context for how they’re able to see themselves and their people and their communities,” he said.

Neezzhoni sees the broader celebration of Native American Heritage Month as “paving a way to progress.” While BIE schools participate in cultural programs and teachings throughout the school year, placing a special emphasis on it during the month of November offers opportunities that students don’t usually get, like attending NBA games and traveling to perform in other states.

I'atala said it is important for BIE students to celebrate their ancestors’ resilience, and school recognition of holidays such as Native American Heritage Month reinforces that history. Begaye hopes the next generation of students will have an even more robust experience as the BIE and schools continue to connect with the communities they serve and expand their offerings.

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