The Blue Lake Rancheria recently received a $156,116 grant from the U.S. Department of Education and the State Tribal Education Program to establish a multi-district agency aimed at improving not only Native American youth success, but the success of the community as well. 

The grant money will be used to set up an education authority with officials from Blue Lake Rancheria, the Northern Humboldt Unified School District, College of the Redwoods and the Humboldt County Office of Education to establish a curriculum that focuses on Native American cultural responsiveness and project-based learning. 

“[This grant] is about building the administrative network needed to run a school,” said Alison Robbins, BLR’s education program director. She went on to emphasize that the programs derived from the future agency will not be ones that are simply just a lecture. “We want to make sure to use project-based learning that is culturally responsive while using tribal knowledge.”

[Disclamer: The Blue Lake Rancheria is a minority owner of Lost Coast Communications, the Outpost’s parent company.]

She said that a workforce education aimed at preparing students for future economies will be at the core of the curriculum. Apprentice-like programs will be implemented once their Toma Resiliency Center comes on board in 2022. Robbins said some of the programs will mimic one already in place at McKinleyville High School. There, students have learned about how historical Yurok Tribal homes, made largely of redwood, used passive solar energy for heating purposes. Robbins said that students are using those techniques to build a tiny home based on similar practices. 

Classes offered in the future program will be able to be applied to high school and college credits, Robbins said.

Although the agency will encompass representatives from just a handful of jurisdictions, Robbins said that any student from the local area in ninth grade and up will be welcomed into the program. 

Another focus of the programs will to be educate the educators on what it means to serve and educate Native American youth.

“We need to make sure schools are embracing cultural diversity because the tribes of this area experience generational trauma,” Robbins said.

She pointed to how boarding schools of the past essentially kidnapped Native youth and forced them to “Americanize” their ways. A statewide report from Oct. 2019 found that Native American youth are suspended from schools at over twice the rate of their counterparts and that the United States school system as whole has been one of assimilation.

“The Native American student experience within U.S. education has largely been one of assimilation, betrayal, and oppression, and one where visible forms of racism, power, and oppression exist,” the report reads. “The experiment of assimilation of Native American people into U.S. society has been an ongoing struggle since the founding of the United States.”

Thoughts on why Native American youth are suspended at higher rates are suggested in the study, and range from cultural differences and punishing resistance to authority. However, the study found that a resistance to authority, especially from white educators, is a part of their struggle to protect their heritage.

“[T]he act of resistance is an ongoing framework for sovereignty and survival…. For Native students, the act of resistance is essential to their development as future tribal community leaders and scholars. To shame that act of resistance impedes student discovery and articulation of self-purpose,” the report states.

The top schools for Native American youth suspensions are right here in Humboldt County. The County has the fifth highest suspension rate in the state for Native American male youth, with a rate of 17.5 percent for its 840 male students (the largest number of students for top 20 schools listed with high suspension rates). Native American girls in Humboldt face a suspension rate of 13.3 percent with 835 students enrolled, the third highest in the state.

Fortuna Union High School had the highest suspension rate in the state among Native American male youth, with a staggering suspension rate of 71.43 percent. Loleta Union Elementary topped the Native American female youth suspension category with a rate of 32.36 percent. 

“Generational trauma creates issues with learning because it creates a distrust,” Robbins said. “Teachers do not have the experience in dealing with that kind of trauma.”

She was hesitant to put blame on the school districts as a whole. She doesn’t think there is anything nefarious about the suspensions or that the educators are insensitive. She chalked up the suspensions to a lack of knowledge.

“It is not the fault of teachers or school districts,” she said, “it is a lack of knowledge that we are trying to rectify.”

Robbins went on to say that another positive of the BLR winning the grant money is that it will open them up to funds available for professional development for educators who work with children who experience generational trauma. 

“The Blue Lake Rancheria has a vision of an economy that is efficient, that protects our environment and works towards a zero-waste, closed-loop economy with education leading the way,” she said. “ It is a vision for the future and for the seventh generation.”