Native Village Youth and Education News
February 1, 2009 Issue 194 Volume 2

Native Colleges: America's Best Kept Secret

An editorial by Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji)
2008 Native American Journalists Foundation, Inc.
Condensed by Gina Boltz, Director, Native Village Publications

Tribal College in Gray States

Senator Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), stumbled across a great disparity while seeking appropriations for the Native American colleges. "It was appropriations time and I was frankly shocked to discover that a federally chartered college like Howard University, a school for African American students, was getting $13,000 per student while the Tribally Controlled Indian Colleges were getting only $1,700 per student. Inouye made it his goal to close that gap.

37 Indian colleges are scattered across Indian country, mostly on isolated Indian reservations. For the first time in history, Native Americans can seek higher education degrees on their homelands. I believe that the Indian colleges are one of America's best kept secrets.

Thirty-six years ago, Stanley Red Bird, a respected elder from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, called Lionel Bordeaux who was completing his studies at the University of Minnesota. Red Bird told Bordeaux that he was looking for a young man who knows the Lakota language. "Your plans have changed," Red Bird told Bordeaux.  " Your name came through in our ceremonies and we want you to come home and head up Sinte Gleska Community College, the new college we are initiating,"

Sinte Gleska was named after the famous Sicangu leader Spotted Tail.

Bordeaux left school to return to Rosebud. At a spiritual ceremony he was handed the Pipe and told that if something was said that he felt he couldn't handle, he was free to put the Pipe down and walk away. Bordeaux didn't walk away.  36 years later, Sinte Gleska is among the finest of  Indian colleges. It has gone from a
Community College to a full-fledged University. "We aren't there yet, but the circle is getting smaller and tighter," Bordeaux said during a conference in Rapid City.

How important are the Indian colleges to the Oyate (People)? During early efforts to get Sinte Gleska off of the ground, the new tribal chairman fired Red Bird, Bordeaux and most of the staff. Red Bird organized the people and marched on tribal headquarters. Discussions grew heated until a Lakota woman carrying a handicapped child walked to the front of the council. "None of you seated here have had to raise a handicapped child. I have, and the one institution that has helped me was Sinte Gleska College." The council appeared to be embarrassed by her appearance.  They reinstated everyone they had fired.

Bordeaux believes  two major things stand in the way of making the Indian colleges a total success; funding and accreditation. He believes Indian colleges must  sacrifice many of their people's traditions and culture to develop the criteria that validates their existence. "We have Lakota elders with a wealth of knowledge, elders that are traditional Lakota speakers, who would be a valuable resource for the colleges, but because of the stringent rules of accreditations, we are hard-pressed to use them because they do not have the degrees or credentials," Bordeaux said. He would like tribal colleges to be accredited based on tribal law, culture and traditions. "We need to use our group and our intellect to handle our own accreditation," he said.

Bordeaux also hopes for financial input from successful Indian casinos. He said wealthy gaming tribes are an untapped source of revenues that could open college doors for Indian people everywhere. Bordeaux and Dr. Jim Wilson, an Oglala Lakota, dream of building an American Indian University in the heart of the Black Hills. They believe this university would strengthen Indian colleges rather than weaken them. "All of the Indian colleges would be beneficiaries and contributors to the American Indian University," Sen. Inouye said.  As Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Inouye thinks he can find the funds to make it a reality.

At a recent conference, Marie Randall, a Lakota elder from Wanbli on the Pine Ridge Reservation, stood up to speak. She said, "I am 88 years old and I just earned my degree from Oglala Lakota College so now I can teach my takojas (all young people are spoken of as "grandchildren" by the Lakota).

When anyone asks, "How important are the Indian colleges?" just think about Marie Randall. Marie read an editorial in the Lakota Times about a mural in South Dakota's State Capitol Building that showed white settlers standing on the neck of a prone Indian. She went to Pierre, confronted then Governor Bill Janklow, and demand that the mural be torn down or covered.  The governor had the mural covered with a curtain.

What a teacher Marie Randall has become and what a role model for the Lakota children. It would not have happened without the Indian colleges.

From Native Village: Tribal Colleges


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