Bill for Native American early childhood education heads to governor

A bill that would provide funding for tribes to establish early childhood programs with culturally relevant education has passed both chambers of the legislature.

By: - March 14, 2023 4:00 am
A statue of several children outside the entrance to the New Mexico state capitol is covered in snow.

HB148 passed unanimously in the House and Senate and now heads to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. (Photo by Shaun Griswold / Source NM)

The youngest school kids in New Mexico are one step closer to seeing commitments to teach cultural education in tribal head start programs.

House Bill 148 mandates the New Mexico Early Childhood and Education Department work with tribes through intergovernmental agreements to administer and provide funding for early childhood programs using a tribe’s cultural teachings on tribal lands.

This bill, sponsored by Rep. Derrick Lente (D-Sandia Pueblo) also gives tribes the ability to determine if the tribal government wants to enter into these programs with the state.

Rep. Wonda Johnson (D-Rehoboth) who is Diné, supports the bill because it helps preserve Native language and cultures

“I think this affords us a seat at the table to help administer those agreements, to help plan our early childhood programs with our nation’s tribes and Pueblos,” she said.

Lente said the approach that Native Americans are dictated by western government leaders to do “what’s best for them” can change with this type of legislation.

“I think as Native Americans today, in the 21st century, we understand that we’ve been a victim of that, that we have lost so many of our languages and cultures, trying to be more like mainstream society of America,” he said. “But the point being is that we know what’s best in our communities, we know how to raise our children.”

Seeing Native American representation in an educational setting is crucial for young Native children who are starting their education, according to Lente.

“When you can begin your education knowing that you’re being taught by people around you from your community, or you’re being taught by those that look like you and act like you and maybe know your parents, or you can be taught by practices that respect where you come from, and the history behind you,” he said,”And the languages and the cultures behind where you come from. It makes you feel included.”

Native youth could be at risk of becoming victims of a negative cycle in education where they don’t see themselves represented, Lente affirmed. That point is also part of the education reform mandated through the judgment made in the Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit.

“When they don’t see themselves represented by their teachers, or by people in educational positions. They just feel invisible. And they feel like there’s nothing really to do except stay at home and become a statistic,” Lente said.

Lente said his legislative priorities are an attempt to break this cycle of helplessness and hopelessness.

“If we can provide a mechanism by wave where they can begin to pull themselves up, not looking for a handout, but for a hand up to create this change, that’s going to prove successful for our people,” he said.

HB148 passed unanimously in the House and Senate and now heads to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

“Our desire is to raise our children in the most holistic, balanced, beauty way of life that we know how,” Johnson said.

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Jeanette DeDios
Jeanette DeDios

Jeanette DeDios is from the Jicarilla Apache and Diné Nations and grew up in Albuquerque, NM. She recently graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2022 where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Multimedia Journalism, English and Film. Jeanette can be contacted at [email protected] or via Twitter @JeanetteDeDios.