The Assiniboine and Sioux tribes have filed a Title VI complaint against the Wolf Point school district.
This is the first time tribes have filed a complaint to the federal Departments of Justice and Education on their children’s behalf, based on school policy, in a school district that has a majority Native population.
Professor Maylinn Smith, the Indian Law Clinic Director at the University of Montana, said that “it’s usually some kind of discrimination matter, that you bring what is called a Title VI action and that’s when the Department of Justice is supposed to come in and do an investigation.”
In this case, the Fort Peck tribes are asking both the Department of Justice and Department of Education to take action to solve what they allege is pervasive discrimination against Native students in violation of federal law.
The federal agencies have 180 days to respond.
If they decide to take action and investigate, that will ultimately lead to a consent decree.
“So a consent decree is you identify what the areas of concern are and then you identify how those problematic areas are going to be changed,” said Smith.
The attorney who filed the complaint, Melina Healey, has been working with the tribes on the Fort Peck Reservation since 2011.
She says there’s been a growing awareness in Montana about the need to work across cultures and understand institutional problems.
“Our hope is that will start the conversation rolling and start to address some of the issues that have become so systemic in that school district, said Smith.
On Monday’s All Things Considered, YPR and Montana Public Radio will provide team coverage of the factors at play in Wolf Point school district’s second Title VI complaint in 15-years.