After a 2017 Oregon Public Broadcasting investigation revealed Chemawa Indian School, located just east of Keizer, struggled to meet students’ health and academic needs, fostered a hostile work environment, and charged administrators with acts of nepotism and favoritism in hiring practices, Rep. Kurt Schrader and others from the Oregon legislative team sought to delve deeper into what is happening. To date, they’ve been mostly stymied.
Letters with pointed questions about practices at the school, established to teach Native American youth a variety of trades including farming, animal husbandry and other vocational skills beneficial to reservation life and culture, were sent to the U.S. Department of Interior, the U.S. Department of Education the Department of Health and Human Service and the Department of Indian Affairs. Answers were slow to arrive. However, Schrader said the primary stumbling block has been John Tahsuda, the principal deputy assistant secretary for Indian affairs, who has forbidden the school’s administrators and employees from talking with congressional representatives.
“This is complete bullsh-t. No one’s ever done it before. I can’t help people if they can’t talk to me,” Schrader said. “This is the first time I’ve had any administration just tell someone they can’t talk to their congressional representative.”
Schrader said he’s talked to leaders of several congressional committees that oversee Chemawa, along with other Native American boarding schools, who support his desire for a congressional hearing on the matter, but it would not take place until after the mid-term elections or possibly 2019.
Responses from the Department of Education and Health and Human Services arrived recently addressed many of the questions – focused on funding and health services – asked of those agencies, but Schrader said the responses up to that point were of the “see the policy handbook” variety.
“They are afraid someone is going to say something that makes them look bad. It’s wrong at the core and these kids deserve a little more, not less,” Schrader said.