Native Americans on horse back protesting at Capitol Hill

Yellow Kidney, et al. v. Montana Office of Public Instruction, et al.

Location: Montana
Status: Ongoing
Last Update: July 27, 2021

What's at Stake

In July 2021, the ACLU, the ACLU of Montana, and the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of five Indian nations and 18 individual plaintiffs challenging the state of Montana’s failure to fulfill its constitutional mandate to teach public school students the history and culture of the first peoples of Montana in consultation with local tribes.

The lawsuit, Yellow Kidney, et al. v. Montana Office of Public Instruction, et al., was filed in Montana District Court in Cascade County by the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, Fort Belknap Indian Community, Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Little Shell Tribe, and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation, and 18 individual student plaintiffs against the agencies and officials responsible for implementing the state’s Indian education provisions: the Montana Office of Public Instruction (MOPI), the Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) Elsie Arntzen, the Montana Board of Public Education (MBPE), and Montana Board of Public Education Chair Darlene Schottle.

Since 1972 Montana’s Constitution has required that all public school students receive instruction about the first peoples of their state. Implementation of the constitutional provision was specifically addressed in 1999 when the Montana Legislature passed the Indian Education for All Act. At the direction of the Montana Supreme Court, dedicated annual funding by the legislature for the Indian education provisions began in 2007.

Yet the lawsuit demonstrates there is little evidence of comprehensive, statewide compliance with the provisions being directed by state agencies and officials. MOPI fails to require uniform reporting by school districts of their Indian education or monitor how the schools use Indian education funding. MOPI and MBPE are not monitoring whether Indian education is even being taught, and there is no reporting or monitoring of cooperation with tribes in Indian education.

To ensure that the state agencies and officials implement and comply with the Constitution and statutes in the future, the class-action lawsuit asks for declaratory and injunctive relief such as the creation and monitoring by the state, in consultation with Montana tribes, of minimum IFEA reporting and compliance standards.

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