Daines to Department of Interior: Conditions at Tribal Schools are Unacceptable

U.S. SENATE — Senator Steve Daines today passionately implored the Obama administration to improve conditions at tribal schools.

During today’s Senate Indian Affairs committee hearing on Indian education, Daines pressed Department of Interior (DOI) Acting Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Lawrence Roberts on his failure to conduct any health inspections at Montana’s Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) facilities from 2012-2014. 

“In a recent conversation with Loverty Erickson, Superintendent of the Northern Cheyenne Tribal School, my office was horrified to learn that the school has a broken fire alarm system, not a single disability accessible bathroom, and no drinkable tap water on campus, forcing the school to purchase bottled water for the classrooms,” Daines stated. “There was one week this year when the purchase order for bottled water got held up, leaving teachers with no other choice than to bring in bottled water for their students on their own dime. This kind of environment is not conducive to learning.”

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released last month shows that Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), under the leadership of the DOI, failed to conduct annual safety and health inspections at more than 60 percent of BIE schools from 2012-2015. Not a single BIE facility in Montana was inspected from 2012-2014.

“What else is out there? If the inspections were missed have you gone through all the other expectations at BIE – I assume this was codified – that these inspections needed to take place? What else isn’t taking place?” Daines asked Roberts.

Roberts stated that BIE was going to conduct another report.

Click here to download Daines’ remarks.

Click here to watch Daines’ remarks.

Daines then pressed Roberts on what other inspections was BIE not being compliant. 

Roberts was unable to answer the question. 

Daines also spoke with Dr. Sandra Boham, President of Salish Kootenai College about the importance of Native language education and maintaining tribal colleges and universities’ participation in federal student loan programs voluntary to alleviate potential burdens on tribal college students.  

Montana is home to three BIE facilities and seven tribal colleges and universities.