Senator Heinrich is fighting for greater investments to improve opportunities for Tribal schools and students
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) delivered a virtual keynote message for the grand opening of Laguna Elementary School in Laguna, New Mexico. A video of today’s ceremony is available here.
“The brand-new Laguna Elementary School campus will provide children with incredible opportunities to learn and grow. And I’m certain it will become a community hub for all of Laguna Pueblo,” said Heinrich during his remarks.
When classes resume in-person on August 16, Laguna Elementary will be able to serve over 300 students in its new 51,368-square-foot facility. The school is Tribally-controlled by the Laguna Pueblo, and funded by the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE).
In 2018, Senator Heinrich welcomed news that BIE would grant Laguna Pueblo with funding to rebuild the elementary school. Senator Heinrich helped lead efforts to ensure that Laguna Elementary was included in BIE’s list for the Replacement School Construction Program in 2016.
Senator Heinrich is an advocate for increasing funding for BIE replacement school construction, and plans to continue this pursuit now that he sits on the Senate Committee on Appropriations.
In the Great American Outdoors Act, championed into law by Senator Heinrich, he secured a measure to address maintenance backlogs at the BIE and will continue working to improve educational facilities in Tribal communities.
“I’ve been fighting for years to enhance the federal funding and speed up the bureaucratic processes at the Bureau of Indian Education that have stood in the way of replacing older school campuses that are not providing quality learning environments for students in Indian Country,” Heinrich added. “Every child deserves to go to school in a building that is safe and healthy. And they need to learn in a classroom that is equipped with all the technology they need to succeed.”
Senator Heinrich also helped secure relief for Tribal schools in the American Rescue Plan. That relief, totaled at $1.1 billion for Native education programs, included $850 million for the Bureau of Indian Education, $190 million for Tribal education agencies and Native Hawaiian and Alaska Native education programs, and $20 million in emergency grants to address the impacts of the pandemic on the preservation of Native languages.
Senator Heinrich’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below.
Thank you to Governor John E. Antonio and Laguna Department of Education Superintendent Patricia Sandoval for inviting me to join you today.
It’s a real honor to help mark this historic occasion for the Pueblo of Laguna.
I only wish that I could be there at the Pueblo to celebrate with you in person.
The brand-new Laguna Elementary School campus will provide children with incredible opportunities to learn and grow.
And I’m certain it will become a community hub for all of Laguna Pueblo.
I want to recognize the years of persistence on the part of the Pueblo that led to finally getting this new campus completed.
It should have been completed much, much sooner.
I’ve been fighting for years to enhance the federal funding and speed up the bureaucratic processes at the Bureau of Indian Education that have stood in the way of replacing older school campuses that are not providing quality learning environments for students in Indian Country.
Every child deserves to go to school in a building that is safe and healthy.
And they need to learn in a classroom that is equipped with all the technology they need to succeed.
During her confirmation hearing earlier this year, our new Interior Secretary Deb Haaland spoke to me about attending Laguna Elementary many years ago.
We can all agree that it is a good thing that when students return to the classroom next month they will return to a whole new campus.
I am committed to working closely with Secretary Haaland and the Biden Administration to speed up the process to build modern campuses for the dozens of BIE and tribally-controlled schools that still need them.
I also want to take a moment to reflect on just how important and powerful it is that there is a tribally-controlled Laguna Elementary School in the first place.
We are sadly not far removed from a painful chapter of our history when children from Tribal communities like Laguna were separated from their families and forced to attend boarding schools.
These boarding schools were explicitly designed to strip children of their language and culture.
That painful history is something that our nation must fully acknowledge.
Just last month, Secretary Haaland announced that she is launching the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative to help us reckon with this difficult history and to help bring healing to Tribal communities.
But today, the Laguna Department of Education stands out as an incredible and positive example of the power of tribal sovereignty and self-determination in education.
From the historic first step of building Laguna Middle School in the 1990s, the Department has expanded to offer services from their earliest years of children’s development all the way through support for higher education.
And this new campus for Laguna Elementary School will now be where the next generation of students learns not only math, science, and reading.
They will also learn their native Keres language.
Language is central to cultural identity and a sense of belonging.
The preservation and instruction of Native languages like Keres has proven to raise high school graduation rates and college enrollment for Tribal students.
Teaching these languages—and keeping them alive in the next generation—should be a central educational priority for all of us.
Before I finish, I also want to take a moment to recognize all of the teachers, staff, parents, and students who remained incredibly determined to stay engaged in their education in the face of a global pandemic.
I want to commend everyone who worked so hard to connect all of the villages in the Pueblo to online learning.
I want to thank the parents and teachers who put in more hours than you can count making sure kids kept up their studies.
And I want to acknowledge all of the Tribal employees who have worked so hard to protect the health and safety of the entire Pueblo of Laguna community throughout this pandemic.
Your work has saved many lives.
And it is truly thanks to all of you that so many children will soon be able to safely return to in-person instruction in the classrooms on this campus.
There is still work ahead of us to help all of our communities recover.
But thanks to the success of vaccines in New Mexico—and particularly in Tribal communities—I am confident in our future.
I’d like to commend the Laguna Education Department for installing new HVAC systems and investing in making classrooms and school buses safer and healthier.
And I want to give special recognition to the fact that 100 percent of the staff at Laguna Elementary will be vaccinated by the time school starts next month.
I hope everyone here can take pride in this new campus and in this school.
And I wish each of you a safe, healthy, and productive start to the new school year.