Denise Juneau was sworn in as State Superintendent of Public Instruction on Monday. Simultaneously, she made Montana history as the first Native American woman to be elected to a statewide office. Saying that this is important for Montana and for Native Americans is an understatement. This is a moment that future generations will refer back to when talking about how Native Americans and Montana improved their relationship. This is one of those events that build people up, show them that we can be better, accomplish more and leave this world better then we found it. I am getting just a bit optimistic.
How can you not get optimistic, though? Gov. Brian Schweitzer has been using the phrase “New Day,” applying it to Native Americans in a specific sense and to Montana in a broader sense. I don’t buy hype easily, but I recognize a paradigm shift when I see one. Native Americans having more interaction with the government off the reservation can only improve things on both sides. A Montana government that represents all of its citizens better. It’s hard to imagine any dissenting opinions on this one, excluding the usual gamut of racists, xenophobes, sore losers, ne’er do wells, shock jocks and compulsive contrarians.
Juneau as the new SSPI will bring a nuanced approach to Indian Education heretofore unseen on the executive level. I’m not saying that you have to be Indian to understand how to help Indians, but the current track record suggests that some inside opinion helps. Juneau won’t be a single issue politician, though. I’ve talked with her in the past, and her dislike of zero tolerance policies as well as a major overhaul if not outright abandonement of the No Child Left Behind program resonated very well with me. I have two siblings still in the public education system, and I feel like they’ll be better for having Juneau in charge of things. She’s stated more then a few times that she’s going to start a new course for students statewide. This sounds like a win/win for just about everyone involved.
Congratulations to Denise Juneau! This is something I should’ve said much sooner. I can’t help but get optimistic about where it goes from here. And it starts in the best place for change: With the kids.