Today’s Choctaw education has it roots in the passage of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975. That law paved the way for tribal governments to take control of programs and services previously provided by the federal government on the Choctaw Reservation. Tribal members receive educational services from early childhood through adult education.
One of the first actions undertaken by the Indian Agency established in Mississippi in 1918 was the establishment of Bureau of Indian Affairs schools for tribe members. Elementary schools gradually were built in all Choctaw communities, but not until 1965 did a high school open in the Pearl River community to serve all of the reservation’s secondary students. For the most part, these schools implemented the federal policy of assimilation, attempting to educate tribal members according to and in the ways of the dominating culture.
Now, however, six elementary schools, one middle school, and one boarding high school provide services including Choctaw culture to more than seventeen hundred Choctaw students, making it the “largest unified and locally controlled Indian school system in the country.” The schools are located in Choctaw communities in a four-county area in east-central Mississippi. In addition, eight Head Start Centers provide low-income students with a wide-ranging child development program, including Choctaw language instruction. In many classrooms, tribe members serve as aides, supporting learning through a variety of means, including the use of Choctaw language. The tribal language program provides further assistance in language instruction in the classrooms as well as after school and during the summer.
Today, Choctaw education shares many of the characteristics of other Mississippi schools. The Choctaw system offers classes in history, mathematics, science, physical education, and other subjects that conform to national standards. There are also extracurricular programs such as the Beta Club, which supports superior achievement; FIRST LEGO League, which supports interactive engineering and robotics education; tutoring programs that target students who need extra assistance; and NASA science programs. In addition, the tribal schools have access to federal education programs such as Title I and Title VII.
A generation ago, most Choctaw students did not go on to receive higher education because of financial constraints or discrimination, but many students now matriculate at institutions ranging from local community colleges to first-rate universities across the country. Students receive tribal support for these endeavors as a result of the success of various economic development efforts.
The tribe operates a thriving adult education department that offers employment and training programs, vocational education, and disability services as well as summer job-training programs that provide youth with skills and opportunities to perform community service. In addition, tribal employees can participate in the Criminal Investigator Training Program at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center or wildlife response training from the Audubon Center, among other such opportunities.
- Rodney L. Brod, Choctaw Education (1979)
- Choctaw Community News (January 2008)
- Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (88 Stat. 2203), PL 93–638 (4 January 1975)
- Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians website, www.choctaw.org