Tribal Early Learning Hub Fails to Meet New Requirements Set by Oregon Legislature

Valeria Atanacio advocated to state legislators three years ago for the passing of a bill intended to enhance Indigenous families’ access to early learning and child care services.

Upon the Oregon Legislature’s approval of the Tribal Early Learning Hub initiative, considered a triumph by Atanacio, she reflected on its profound impact.

“That was truly significant as it fulfilled a promise,” stated Atanacio, who was the tribal affairs manager for Oregon’s Early Learning Division in 2021. She highlighted that the commitment was to empower tribes in determining the delivery of state resources and services.

An advisory committee, comprising representatives from all nine federally recognized tribes in the state, was charged by the Legislature with designing the hub. Unlike Oregon’s existing regional subagencies for early learning strategies, the tribal hub aimed to exclusively serve tribal communities. The state earmarked $601,000 to support the committee’s efforts, with an additional $626,000 allocated in 2023. Leading the meetings and serving as a crucial link between state officials and the tribal committee members, Atanacio was promoted to tribal affairs director in 2022.

However, following 14 months of meetings and nearly $2 million in state and federal funding, the committee abandoned plans for the early learning hub in October. They cited an inability to structure it in a manner that respected each tribe’s sovereignty. Subsequently, the committee redirected its funding towards grants for the tribes, but the decisions were made in private meetings, potentially violating Oregon’s open-meetings laws, according to InvestigateWest’s findings. Atanacio, who felt unsupported in her role with tribes, was unexpectedly demoted in July 2023 and subsequently resigned. The early learning department’s tribal affairs positions remained vacant for six months thereafter.