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Natives Program Students Speak at 4J School Board Meeting

Elizabeth Gabriel

At Wednesday night’s Eugene 4J school board meeting, the Natives Program gave a presentation about its impact on students.Community members highlighted the importance of the 48-year-old program.

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC News
4J’s director of Indian education, Brenda Lee Brainard, presents a bear drum to superintendent Dr. Gustavo Balderas.

It was an emotional night at the end of the meeting, as an intertribal drum group performed drumming ceremonies. Dr. Brenda Lee Brainard is the director of 4J’s Indian education program. After working with students for 27 years, she announced she will retire at the end of the school year.

During the presentation, about seven current and former 4J students spoke in support of the program. Former 4J student McKenzie Allison described the group’s impact after she lost her mom.

“Luckily for me, Brenda and Joe and all of the kids that I’ve spent so many years with in the program, helped me get through the hard days and all the good days during this transition,” said Allison.

“They gave me a community and a sense of belonging during the good and the bad days," said Allison. "Not only has the program been a community for me, they have helped me plant roots in my culture that I will forever treasure.”

According to Brainard, the program’s parent committee has been meeting with the district before they begin advertising the new position. Funding for the Natives Program has been reduced in recent years, but the 4J board has expressed support for retaining it after Brainard’s retirement.

Elizabeth Gabriel is a former KLCC Public Radio Foundation Journalism Fellow. She is an education reporter at WFYI in Indianapolis.
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