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Remarks to Harvard University
John F. Kennedy School of Government
Native Americans in the 21st Century: Nation Building I
GSE A101 and KSG PED-501M
By David M. Gipp, President
United Tribes Technical College
Bismarck, North Dakota

Good afternoon. I want to begin by thanking the distinguished faculty here at the John F. Kennedy School of Government for inviting me to share some remarks with you today.

My name is Dave Gipp, and I am a Hunkpapa Lakota from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe located in both North and South Dakota. I am currently the president of the United Tribes Technical College located in Bismarck, North Dakota. I've been there for about 30 years, and my background has been in the development of what we refer to as tribal colleges and universities that directly serve tribal nation populations. Before this time, I was the first permanent director of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) from 1973 - 1977. I worked with our first six founding tribal colleges in 1973 at AIHEC, and during this time worked extensively on the development of federal legislation known as the Tribally Controlled Community College Assistance Act of 1978. It was signed into law in December, 1978, by President Jimmy Carter. It was and remains today, the first piece of landmark legislation that provides operating support for many of the tribal colleges today.

Throughout the past few days, as you all have been learning more about Nation Building and Native Americans in the 21st century, it has probably seemed a bit overwhelming. As Native Americans in North America, we have a truly unique history of development that has created situations of almost extreme complexity. Throughout history American Indians and Alaska Natives fought to protect their sovereign rights as Tribal peoples. The right to self-determination and self-governance didn't begin with the Marshall Trilogy, as you have probably learned here. However, it did provide an effective foundation from which Tribes built an understanding of how their political relationship with the United States government is firmly rooted in the Nation's history.

Today, there are over 550 Tribal Nations that are often referred to as semi or quasi sovereign, domestic dependent nations. Not our definition of sovereignty, by the way. The sovereign Tribal Nations are recognized either by treaty or other federal executive recognition. We also have nations that have treaties with England and which predate the American or the U. S. government. We have a number of tribes that are recognized only by the states in which they are located, such as North Carolina or Virginia. The only concept that is consistent with regard to Native Americans in North America is that there is no consistency! It is fair to say that what you have learned these past few days is just the tip of the iceberg in learning about Native Americans. However, our Tribal Nations provide vivid examples of not so much Nation-Building but of Nation-RE-Building.

The Tribal Nations on this continent have a long tradition of self-governance. Without the clash of cultures that occurred as a result of one lost Italian (Smiley face), we would be continuing in those traditions. However, as a result of many disastrous governmental and public policies enacted by the U.S. government, most of our Tribal Nations are in the various stages of RE-Building our Tribal Nations.

Historically, it is only after the first quarter of the 20th century that Native Americans were even considered human beings. In 1924 the balance of Indian people-roughly one third-were made citizens of the United States by an act of congress. Among the tribal people, 19th and 20th century federal policy was to outlaw any religious or spiritual practices. On my own reservation, The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, I calculate that our ceremonies were banned with the killing of Sitting Bull on December 15, 1890 until the first publicly sanctioned ceremony in 1949. Even after this, ceremonies had to be held out of the reaches of government and Christian officials. It has not been until the 1970's and forward that such ceremonies can be held openly. In many cases such ceremonies are held away from mainstream locations and with discretion. Some tribal nations only allow their own citizens or community members to attend. What this implies is that our tribal nations have suffered the loss of language, our own traditional histories, decimation of the cultural knowledge, and erosion of our values and practices.

Despite the depredations against First Nation People and their original governments and being, the various nations continue and have survived. This includes the loss of lands, water and other resources, the loss of our economies, the killing of the men, women and children, and the disposition of original leaders and governments, as well as the outlawing of our belief and spiritual systems.

The first Tribal Colleges and Universities (or what we call TCU's) were founded to help preserve, protect, maintain and build upon the strengths of our tribes relative to our history, language, culture and spiritual beliefs. Indeed, they exist to tell the truth and correct the often misguided federal policies, practices and stereotypes about Indian people. The Tribal College movement developed educational learning specific to Tribal populations using as it's lynch pin the language of Treaties and how those Treaties cemented what is now referenced as the "Federal/Tribal relationship". Tribal College leaders embraced and reflected the values of the Tribal communities that they served. These leaders knew that the history of their Tribal Nations needed to be understood and the best way to accomplish that was by the creation of Tribal Colleges which taught the history and the cultural values while meeting the academic requirements of dominate academic institutions of higher learning. Tribal leadership skills were openly discussed and encouraged to grow, forums were held to discuss ways to structure the federal relationship in order to withstand strong anti-Indian legislation, court decisions, and administrative rules and regulations.

The colleges provide a course of study that incorporates Western knowledge and technical skills, as well. In effect, our people must live in two worlds-the Non-Native and the People whom we are and represent. The ability to cope, survive and be successful in both worlds depends on how we continue to rebuild our tribal communities and societies. We have, on the Northern and Southern Plains, lived for too long in a period where we have been denied freedom. For other tribal nations along both coasts of the United States, it has been longer.

For us as American Indians, the tribal colleges and universities represent an extension of our tribal communities and tribal government beginning to exercise a "road to independence." They represent a counter to past federal policy and even religious Christian policy to "civilize and Christianize" the Indians. The colleges are key to a renaissance of all things that are a part of and connected to our being-our tribal systems that represent what and who and why we are. In fact, we are in a race to preserve, protect, and revitalize the languages, the history, the customs and practices and the spiritual knowledge and our values.

Overall the 36 tribal colleges and universities serve close to 35,000 students nationally. We are in eleven states including: North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Washington, California, Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma. We have schools upcoming in Wyoming, Alaska, the New England Area, among some of the states. Despite our successes, however, the colleges still remain drastically under funded. In the case of United Tribes, we have not been treated fairly by the current presidential administration. We have been left out of the budget four times, and each time Congress has restored our operating funds. Nevertheless, it remains a challenge to assure that we have the resources to serve some 1,000 students and nearly 400 children on our 110 acre campus. In our case at United Tribes, we are in the midst of continuing to expand to meet a growing enrollment that will be at 2,000 adults within the next six to eight years.

Our oldest college was founded in 1968 and is known as the Dine' College on the Navajo Nation Reservation. Two of our institutions - Sinte Gleska University and Haskell Indian Nations University - have university status. Several others offer four year or upper division programs. At United Tribes we have partnerships with two universities to offer advanced degrees.

Today, the role of Tribal Colleges has changed very little from that of its earlier beginnings. The Colleges bring together Tribal and non-Tribal people to think about and discuss the future of sovereignty and governance, culture and traditions, homelands and resource rights, as well as the quality of life in Tribal communities. In addition they are ever mindful as to their importance in developing the next generation of Tribal leaders who are knowledgeable in the history of their Nations and fully armed with tools to protect them using the Federal/Tribal relationship as their cornerstone.

Most certainly, we are concerned about providing a curriculum that prepares American Indian people to serve and build their communities and nations. And we must do so in a way that is culturally congruent. In one of your readings for today, Drs. Cornell and Kalt provided two compelling examples - the Flathead in our neighboring state of Montana and the Cochiti Pueblo - of the need for utilizing the unique and individual cultures of Tribal Nations as an integral part of the Nation Re-Building process. As they stated, "because Tribes differ so much culturally one from the other, the formal governmental structures that are legitimate for one Tribe may not be for another". By the same token, our Tribal Colleges are founded on the notion that education, leadership and management training and, indeed, all other aspects of Nation Re-building, must be firmly based in our unique traditional cultures and practices. To do otherwise would only serve to strengthen the bonds of our own oppression.

 

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