Rolling the Dice to Underwrite Reservation Education

A conversation with a future NBCT reveals an interesting relationship between Casino money and education systems on reservations. Author Sandy Merz walks us through a complicated reality that many of our Native Americans face.

Recently, during a coaching session with teachers working toward their National Board Certificates, I had this conversation with a candidate:  

“The Per Capita? Reina, you keep mentioning ‘The Per Capita,’ I’m not sure what you’re referring to.”

“Oh, that’s when families on the Reservation receive their quarterly share of the Casinos’ profits.”

“I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

“Oh it’s a big deal and disruptive. Some teachers even plan around it because there are a lot of absences then.”

“Go on.”

“Beyond that, when a child is born on the reservation a trust is opened in his or her name and every quarter a deposit is made. If the kid graduates high school he or she gets hundreds of thousands of dollars. If not, the kid has to wait until he or she turns 21.”

“So, many go from poor to wealthy in the blink of an eye?”

“Right.”

“Do they get any instruction on how to handle that wealth?”

“Not formally. Financial planning is offered by the bank, I don’t know how many use it. We teach financial literacy at our school as a math class; I don’t know the specifics or the impact, if any. I do talk to them about depreciation and why that hot expensive car might not be the best use of the money.”

“This must be happening on reservations everywhere.”

“I only know of a few tribes who distribute large sums like this quarterly or have money to give out when a child turns a specific age. On my reservation in another state, the casino is remote. It makes money, but not enough to distribute. We did in the beginning, make a lot, and one year they gave out $1000.00. It was not reinvested…business dropped off and now it barely makes money. So, my tribe is still very poor.

“I know of one reservation that hired investment counselors who invested the money, and now it has millions of dollars in assets, but the neighboring reservation to that one just distributes the money and has nothing to show for it.”

“What’s your overall take on this?”

“I do wonder what impact this might have on students and their plans for the future. But, it’s back to the “children of poverty research.” Are students acting out this poverty model or is the lure of instant money creating false impressions? I don’t know of any research about possible impacts of gaming on attendance or motivation of tribally enrolled students in school.

Do schools receive any gaming proceeds directly?

“I don’t know how much…but some are better funded than neighboring schools. I think that information can be looked up…but am not sure. There are very few tribes who have chosen or are able to open their own schools. The charter school option may allow a tribe to create another choice for their children.”

……

So what to do after a conversation like this – One that comes out of the blue and reveals a gaping hole in my knowledge of education policy and practice? I’ve related this talk to several colleagues and although some know a lot about gaming gains and education on reservations, most are as in the dark as I am.

I can’t say how my own teaching context is impacted by the topic, nor how invested should I be in learning about it. I can’t even think what questions I should be asking.  But like that dog with that bone, my mind won’t let it go.

So it’s time for some research and some more writing.

In the meantime, can you help a blogger out?  What do you know about Indian gaming proceeds and education on reservations?  Can you share any stories? Opinions? Research?

 (The conversation above is a composite of a face-to-face meeting and two emails. I changed the person’s name and left out the name of the reservation, at my colleague’s request.  “Reina” read and confirmed that the composite accurately reflects our exchanges.)

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