My research is focused on how schools that serve Anishinaabek students decide a student might need special education services, and how the schools work with Anishinaabek children who are in special education. Native American children are 15% more likely to be tracked into special education programs when compared to any other ethnic group.1  However, it has been noted that in schools that have a significant number of Native American students enrolled place Native American students in special ed at the same rate as other racial groups.

Native American educational experts have cited a lack of cultural competency in public schools as the cause for Native American youth’s disproportionate enrollment in special education programs. Meaning that teachers in public schools who are ill informed about the specific cultures of their students might interpret things that are normal or important for an Anishinaabek or Lakota child to do, as being a sign of them having a disability. A common thing that is often mentioned is that teachers see children who don’t look make eye contact as having a learning disability, when the child is just being respectful.

This becomes even more problematic when special education teachers and staff are not culturally competent or knowledgeable about their students. If they lack basic cultural knowledge about the Anishinaabek or the Lakota they cannot properly help the student learn or reach their potential. Likewise, they wouldn’t necessarily be able to guide Native American parents to resources that are specifically available to Native Americans in the state of Minnesota. For example, children who are enrolled members of the White Earth Nation are eligible to receive mental health consultations, children therapeutic services and supports which focuses on family and community integration, and case management services.

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