Members of the local Native American community are planning a rally on April 23rd to protest the closing of Bimaadiziwin alternative education program in Grand Rapids. The program serving high school age students is the only school in Grand Rapids that is specifically tailored for Native American students. The school, which is located at 45 Lexington NW on Grand Rapids’ west side, is operated by the Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS). Bimaadiziwin is scheduled to be closed by the GRPS because of financial constraints, a decline in enrollment, and increasing federal mandates after five years of serving the Native American community.
According to reports in the corporate media, the Bimaadiziwn program has failed to meet targets required by President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, with GRPS Superintendent Bernard Taylor stating that state and federal regulations make it increasingly difficult to operate schools with small enrollments. WOOD TV 8 has reported that the school district is considering moving the program to Union High School where GRPS would add a Native American history course and create an after school club for students, although the same article reported that there are “slim” chances that the students would be kept together. However, such a plan would not match a program that is specifically catered to the unique needs of the Native community and that includes a curriculum infused with Native American culture.
In response to the announced closing, the local Native American community has organized to prevent the school’s closing. The community has organized a petition drive calling for GRPS to reach a “negotiated agreement” with the community and stating that the Native community “cannot support the reassignment of existing American Indian students to other programs or schools within the GRPS system” without such an agreement. In a letter to the local media, Native American activist Levi Rickert stated:
“One more time, the message to American Indians is: Your voice does not count. This administration obviously feels the American Indian community is the point of least resistance in the overall community, because no other alternative program is being cut at this time.”
Some in the Native American community have accused Superintendent Bernard Taylor poor treatment and have charged that the Grand Rapids Public Schools has misled the community about the program’s closing. Specifically, community members have charged GRPS with making promises about moving the Native program elsewhere and failing to follow through on the promises.
In addition to the petition drive, the local Native American community has organized an April 23 rally to be held at the Grand Rapids Public Schools Administrative Building at 1331 Franklin St SE. The protest will take place at 11:00am and will feature a rally and march led by Native American activist Dennis Banks who was one of the co-founders of the American Indian Movement (AIM) in the 1960s. In addition to the rally and march, organizers are calling for the Native community in Michigan to keep their children out of school in protest of both the recent treatment of the Native American community by the Grand Rapids Public Schools as well as the historical and ongoing mistreatment of Native Americans by the United States’ educational system.