July 30, 2020

Cortez Masto Highlights Existing Inequities in Indian Country

CMM Hearing

Washington, D.C. – During this week’s Indian Affairs Committee oversight hearing, U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) questioned Director Tony Dearman of the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) about the bureau’s plan to provide resources to help tribal schools with providing reliable broadband for students learning from home and helping educators with planning to safely reopen. In Nevada, Duckwater Shoshone Elementary and Pyramid Lake Schools are Bureau of Indian Education institutions.                                       

Senator Cortez Masto noted, “We are looking for innovative ways that we can bring that [broadband] connectivity to these two schools. I know Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe is actually in urgent need of building a cell tower as school starts to help them, and they’re looking at using Indian Community Development Block Grants funds for this. I hope you would keep an open mind and work with us in helping us on figuring out how we fund it and bring connectivity to our Indian communities across the country, particularly in Nevada as well because I know they are challenged.”

Senator Cortez Masto also inquired about when Duckwater Elementary and Pyramid Lake schools could expect further guidance from the BIE on reopening as some schools are coming close to reopening next week.  

Director Dearman responded that the schools should expect to receive plans on reopening in the first week of August and added that the BIE has been working with local school officials to move back the start date to give room for flexibility.

Video of the first exchange is available here.

In a second panel with Marita Hinds, President of the National Indian Education Association, and David Yarlott, Jr., Chair of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, Senator Cortez Masto further highlighted existing inequities in tribal communities.

Senator Cortez Masto noted, “Clearly, what we have heard today highlights the challenges already existing in Indian country. I think the Coronavirus pandemic has really shined a light on existing inequities that we see in our tribal communities. Inadequate broadband, aging school facilities, lack of basic infrastructure already existed. And now we are asking them to open during the middle of a health care crisis and we are not giving them the funding they need to address not only the existing inequities, but to keep their students safe and provide e-learning and so many things that are necessary.”

Video of the second exchange is available here.