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Developing SRTS Programs in Indian Country



The National Center for Safe Routes to School has released a brief examining some of the considerations that need to be taken when developing and implementing Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs in Indian Country. This brief highlights strategies that tribal communities are currently using to implement successful SRTS programs, and some suggestions as to how other communities can achieve these same goals.

The National Center for Safe Routes to School notes in their brief that there are unique challenges and circumstances that occur with tribal communities attempting to implement safer walking and biking paths. Some of the unique conditions that they note are school governance, multiple responsible parties over roads and land, and funding sources.

Types of schools for Native children can vary from state funded public schools with a large population of Native students, Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) run schools, and tribe funded schools. Students at tribe-funded schools may not be local students, so the National Center for Safe Routes to School recommends that these programs focus on “active transportation and physical activity for all students, such as on-campus walking programs and remote drop-off programs, in which students are driven part way to school and then walk the remainder of the way.”

In addition, the National Center for Safe Routes to School brief indicates various challenges that tribal communities may face with encouraging students to walk and bike to school. The challenges they note are rural conditions and the poor road conditions and lighting that can be associated with that; loose animals and wildlife; the limited capacity of staff to advocate for improvements; and the lack of data collection and evaluation.

While there are many challenges facing tribal communities attempting to implement SRTS programs, many have succeeded.

  • Pueblo of Laguna in New Mexico “used robust community engagement throughout a pedestrian and bicycle planning process to quickly prioritize and construct infrastructure projects, creating safer walking and bicycling for children and adults.” They used a comprehensive planning process that affected six villages, and through a Federal Highway Administration TIGER II grant, they were able to fund a bicycle and pedestrian route and designed prioritized routes.
  • In Ronan, Montana, a significant improvement to walking and biking routes to school has been achieved through multiple rounds of funding from SRTS.
  • The Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma used SRTS programs to encourage “active school travel as a key initiative to support a healthy weight for children.” Through a grant through the CDC, the Cherokee Nation developed a comprehensive program in four communities.

Read the full National Center for Safe Routes to School brief and learn more about developing SRTS programs in tribal communities here.