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Forsman, Swift pleased with Obama’s commitment
POULSBO — President Obama announced an order that would bring the U.S. Department of Education and American Indian education opportunities closer together, Dec. 2 during his third annual Tribal Nations Conference.
Suquamish Chairman Leonard Forsman and Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribal Council member Francine Swift were among the 565 tribal representatives to hear firsthand of the Obama administration’s efforts and commitments to Native people.
“These meetings are not strictly symbolic,” Forsman said. “There’s been a lot of accomplishments in Indian country” by the Obama administration. Both Forsman and Swift heard promises from past administrations, and said they found this president to be very “genuine.”
“He’s respectful of people,” Swift said.
Obama was adopted by Hartford and Mary Black Eagle of the Crow Nation in 2008, before he was elected, and given the name “One Who Helps People Throughout the Land.”
“He created a relationship with the people that adopted him,” Swift added. “That says a lot about his character.”
This was Swift’s first year attending the conference, and Forsman’s third. Leaders of each federally recognized tribe is invited to participate to discuss pressing issues in smaller sessions before hearing from the president in the afternoon.
Forsman was the leader of “Promising Safe and Strong Tribal Communities,” where tribal leaders also heard from administrators from FEMA, the Justice Department, and Interior, which manages the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
However, close to both Forsman and Swift’s hearts was the main act of the conference — improving Native American educational opportunities.
The executive order, in part, establishes the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education, led by the secretaries of Education and Interior. The initiative outlines specific measures to expand educational opportunities, including culturally-based education, and improve educational outcomes for American Indian/Alaska Native students.
To read the order online, search “Obama Executive Order 13592.”
The graduation rate among Native American students is low, and Forsman said he has worked with local, state and federal agencies for a long time to “improve upon the success of Indian students,” and introduce Native culture and history with less bias.
“We wanted [DOE] to recognize tribes as primary stakeholders in public education,” he said. Swift agrees. She is an academic coach at Kingston Middle School, working in the classroom with Native students who need the extra resources. Currently, her program is in its third year and is funded by Port Gamble S’Klallam, but would improve if it could have federal resources and funding.
Swift’s father, G. Jake Jones, was chairman of Port Gamble S’Klallam when President Clinton asked tribal leaders to the White House for a conference. She said it was an honor and a privilege to continue the work leaders like her dad started.
Forsman said he does not take this opportunity for granted — to meet not just with the president, but administrators high in his cabinet.“We haven’t had a president before provide this much access with tribal leaders,” he said.