- Associated Press - Thursday, December 8, 2016

ACOMA PUEBLO, N.M. (AP) - U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell marked what she says is her final official trip to Indian Country on Thursday with a visit to Acoma Pueblo, a tribe that expanded its land base and moved to take control of a federal school on its reservation under two Obama administration initiatives.

The tribe also has been at the center of an ongoing U.S. diplomatic push involving Jewell and U.S. State Department officials who have sought the return of an Acoma Pueblo ceremonial shield from France. The shield was stolen from the pueblo’s nearly thousand-year-old village decades ago before emerging recently in a Paris auction house catalogue, authorities said.

French officials halted the sale of the shield, which remains in Paris.

“She was the first federal official to voice her concern and opposition, and her support to bring (the shield) back,” Kurt Riley, the governor of Acoma Pueblo, told tribal members.

Jewell used the visit to discuss some of the administration’s top policy priorities for Indian Country while touring the tribe’s historic village situated on top of a mesa that rises more than 300 feet above the desert floor.

She also toured the Sky City Community School, where she made a likely final public attempt to highlight her department’s effort to overhaul a long-troubled federal school system for nearly 50,000 Native Americans students. Most of the Bureau of Indian Education schools are located on rural reservations that have been under the control of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs for decades.

The overhaul includes an effort to upgrade and replace rundown school buildings and dormitories.

It also aims to place more of the schools under the local oversight of tribes, which Jewell says are better positioned to make decisions for their children and students than federal officials in Washington.

The federally funded Sky City Community School is expected to transfer to Acoma Pueblo control next year.

“Of all the things I’ve done in my career, there’s no questions this, in particularly working in Indian County and on tribal education, has been the richest, the most important and the most difficult,” Jewell said.

She said she intends to continue advocating for Native American education after the president’s term ends.

Jewell plans to visit Las Cruces on Friday, and San Francisco and Las Vegas next week as part of a final tour as secretary.

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