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Native Voices in Education Project

The Native Voices in Education Project (NVEP) is a 5-year project funded by Minnesota Department of Education’s federal State Personnel Development Grant award. The purpose of this project is to develop information and technical assistance to school districts and families to increase graduation rates for American Indian and Alaska Native students with disabilities in Minnesota. The NVEP aims to collaborate with families and school districts to increase family confidence, trust, input, and involvement in the school system. It aims to connect families with advocates who are knowledgeable about the special education system, the laws and rules specifically related to the education of American Indian children, and the impacts of historical marginalization on the daily experience of Native students and Native communities in Minnesota.

Although both federal and state laws mandate that American Indian children must receive an education that acknowledges their heritage and culture, many families of American Indian and Alaska Native students do not feel that their languages, cultures, and histories are adequately represented in their child’s daily school experience. Further, Native families report concerns about safety, cultural bias and discrimination, bullying, negative stereotypes, tokenism and disproportionate disciplinary measures. These factors and more contribute to inequitable educational experiences and lower graduation rates for American Indian and Alaska Native students with disabilities. Through information-sharing, partnership building, and expansive thinking, the NVEP hopes to support families and school districts as they work together to nurture safe, inclusive school settings where Native students with disabilities are supported to learn, work towards their diplomas, and achieve their dreams.

Indian Boarding School Acknowledgement

The NVEP recognizes the complex and difficult historical context of building trust between Native families and the public school system. We recognize the need for talking about Indian Boarding Schools, facing our history, and nurturing conditions where healing can take place. The NVEP aims to be mindful of this trauma — which is both historical and ongoing — in every aspect of our work.


Resources related to Bullying, School Discipline, and Stereotypes

Is your child or family member frequently disciplined for challenging behavior and/or bullied at school? A higher proportion of American Indian students receive special education than any other group, particularly in the category of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders (EBD). Challenging behavior is a form of communication; a sign that there is an underlying unmet need that should be addressed. This kind of communication can be difficult to interpret for educators working with or observing students from different cultures from their own. The organizations and projects below aim to help school districts and families understand the complex interactions of cultural norms, mental health, bullying, stereotyping, and challenging behaviors in special education.


  • Dream Catcher Project
    A project of the Minnesota Department of Education that trains Indian Education Home-School Liaisons (IHSLs) or cultural staff to work with special educators observing students’ behavior. This helps schools make better evaluations and include cultural perspectives in decisions they make about students.
  • We Are Still Here Minnesota
    A community (or network) of Native American leaders in education, governance, media and philanthropy working together with allies to identify and deconstruct narratives harmful to Native Americans. Their K-12 Education working group aims to spotlight and make visible contemporary Native peoples by challenging harmful and false narratives in K-12 Education.
  • PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center
    Founded in 2006, PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center actively leads social change to prevent childhood bullying, so that all youth are safe and supported in their schools, communities and online. PACER provides innovative resources for students, parents, educators, and others, and recognizes bullying as a serious community issue that impacts education, physical and emotional health, and the safety and well-being of students.
  • PACER’s Interactive Guide to School Discipline of Minnesota Students with Disabilities
    This interactive guide will answer these and many other questions. Whether your child is on an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a Section 504 Plan, or if you suspect that your child has a disability that affects his or her behavior at school, this guide will help you understand the complex disciplinary process for Minnesota public school children with disabilities.
  • PACER’s Children’s Mental Health and Emotional or Behavioral Disorders Project
    Families of children with mental health, emotional, and behavioral disorders often navigate multiple systems of care to access necessary supports and services. They may also face additional challenges due to stigma about emotional health needs. PACER’s Inspiring Opportunities Project brings together parents, youth, and professionals to help families identify the resources and supports that promote success. This project also promotes increased understanding of children’s mental health needs in the broader community.
  • If you need individual assistance, please call PACER at 952-838-9000 and ask to speak with a Parent Advocate.

Leadership Opportunities and Resources for Native Families

American Indian Home/School Liaisons

American Indian Home/School Liaisons (IHSLs) are Minnesota school district employees whose role is to help American Indian families understand their rights in the special education system and support them to be actively involved in their child’s education. IHSLs support communication and relationship-building between schools and the families of American Indian students with disabilities. IHSLs, like other cultural liaisons , help IEP teams understand how racial, cultural, socioeconomic, and linguistic factors impact educational progress. They facilitate understanding and collaboration between school teams and American Indian families and support the conditions for parents/guardians to provide meaningfully informed consent

American Indian Parent Advisory Committees

Every Minnesota school district that has 10 or more American Indian students enrolled must establish an American Indian Parent Advisory Committee (AIPAC). AIPACs provide an opportunity for American Indian parents to voice their recommendations and concerns about the educational needs of American Indian students and to ensure that American Indian students are receiving culturally relevant and equitable educational opportunities.