Tribes could help state fix school systems

In January, the leaders of Alaska’s education system rolled out a report on “Alaska’s Education Challenge,” the foundation for a fundamental reform of how public schools operate.

On Thursday in Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall, Juneau residents and others from across Southeast Alaska began examining what that reform should look like.

In an hourlong Native Issues Forum hosted by the Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, attendees tackled one aspect of the plan: how to get tribes and communities to own it.

“We’re looking to do something that will increase our outcomes for our students, our schools and our state,” said Liz Medicine Crow, president of First Alaskans Institute.

One of the recommendations — there were 13 altogether — in the education challenge report is that the state should come up with a way for tribal governments or tribal organizations to deliver education, similar to the way they already deliver health care.

“We know that kids have much more success in school when their families have ownership in that process,” Medicine Crow said,” adding that “tribes are families.”

By involving tribes in education, members of the education challenge committee believe they can improve student test scores and performance.

“I believe that all of us are here at the right time to bring about change,” said Rep. Chuck Kopp, R-Anchorage and a fellow member of the committee with Medicine Crow.

In Thursday’s lunchtime meeting, Medicine Crow and Joy Demer, also of First Alaskans Institute, posed questions to attendees spread across the room at circular tables.

She asked them to envision a compact between the state and tribal governments on education.

“What would be possible for our kids and community with tribes and the state compacting education?” she asked.

Attendees bent to large sheets of paper on their tables and sketched their ideas for that question and subsequent ones.

The idea, Medicine Crow said, isn’t to create a plan from scratch, but to envision what a compact between tribes and the state might look like. Thursday’s meeting was one of the first of what will be many, spread across the state.

“The challenges, solutions, and opportunities are out there,” she said, gesturing at the room. “And civic engagement is so much better than uncivil engagement, right? We have enough of that already.”

• Contact reporter James Brooks at or call 523-2258.