Judge Issues Opinion Allowing Indian Education Case on Behalf of Montana Students and Tribes to Proceed

Students and Tribes will get to prove their allegations that state agencies are not abiding by constitutional and statutory Indian Education mandates

Affiliate: ACLU of Montana
April 20, 2023 12:00 pm

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GREAT FALLS, Mont. — Judge Amy Eddy of the Montana Eighth Judicial District Court has issued a written opinion denying the state’s motion to dismiss Yellow Kidney, et al. v. Montana Office of Public Instruction et al. The lawsuit seeks to address Montana's failure to fulfill a constitutional and statutory mandate – contained in the Indian Education clause of the state constitution and the Indian Education for All (IEFA) statutes – to implement public education about Native American history and culture, with a particular emphasis on Montana tribes. The proposed class action lawsuit was filed against Montata state education agencies and officials by students, parents, guardians, and six tribal governments.

In her written opinion, Judge Eddy held: “The individual Plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged a past, present and threated injury to their fundamental constitutional right to learn about the distinct and unique heritage of American Indians in a culturally responsive manner. The Tribal Plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged a past, present and future injury to their ability to work cooperatively with educational agencies and personnel in developing and providing Indian education. The Plaintiffs have alleged these injuries have or will result in racism, bullying, stereotyping, prejudice, a dangerous school environment, mental and emotional harm, and loss of cultural heritage. These injuries are not abstract, conjectural or hypothetical.”

“We shed tears of gratitude for Judge Eddy’s ruling because it’s a beacon of hope in fulfilling a long overdue promise made to our Montana Public School students and Tribal Nations,” said plaintiff Shauna Yellow Kidney (Blackfeet). “The future of Montana is brighter from every perspective, in every generation with the power of collaboration, sparked by Indian Education’s proper implementation and oversight.”

The lawsuit seeks accountability and notes state education agencies give tax dollars to Montana public schools for Indian education without requiring schools to report how they invested the funding, developed curriculum with tribes, or taught the subject.

"The Defendants’ argument that despite the plain statutory language, they specifically have no responsibility or authority to enforce the IEFA is completely unfounded," said Judge Eddy in the decision. "The duties prescribed by the IEFA apply to 'every educational agency' and 'all education personnel' and the Defendants present no cogent argument they should not be included in these terms."

The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU Montana, and the Native American Rights Fund filed Yellow Kidney, et al. v. Montana Office of Public Instruction, et al. in Montana District Court in Cascade County against the agencies and officials responsible for implementing the state’s Indian education provisions: the Montana Office of Public Instruction, the Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen, the Montana Board of Public Education, and Montana Board of Public Education Chair Darlene Schottle. Plaintiffs are Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, Fort Belknap Indian Community, Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Little Shell Tribe, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation, Crow Tribe, and 18 individual student, parent, and guardian plaintiffs.

The full written opinion is available online here: https://www.aclu.org/cases/yellow-kidney-et-al-v-montana-office-public-instruction-et-al?document=Order-Denying-Motion-to-Dismiss#legal-documents

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