United Tribes News Speech Archives
Statement of David M. Gipp
United Tribes Technical College
3315 University Drive
Bismarck, North Dakota 58504
April 6, 2004
Mayor's Town Hall Meeting on Race/National Origin/Religious Discrimination
City of Bismarck
This Town Hall Meeting is an extraordinary event, a historic first for the City of Bismarck. On behalf of United Tribes Technical College (UTTC), I want to thank Mayor Warford and the Bismarck City Council for this unique opportunity (which I hope will not be the last), to present our views of the creation of a community that welcomes people of different cultures, religions and races, in which people of all cultures, religion and races will feel free to express themselves and to be respected.
We at UTTC believe that we have been, and can and should continue to be a vital part of this community and its diversity. We began admitting students to our campus in 1969, and for the past 35 years have been an active part of this community and our state. At any given time, our campus, just south of the city limits near the airport, has within its more than 600 strong student population citizens of more than 40 different Tribal Nations from throughout the United States, as well as non-Indian students from North Dakota and elsewhere.
Our students are part of this community, as well. Many of them now live off-campus, in housing at various places within the City of Bismarck. We shop at local stores, eat at local restaurants vote in local, state and federal elections, and many of the sons and daughters of our faculty, staff and students attend local public and private schools. As many of you also know, we sponsor each year our United Tribes International Pow-wow, attended by tens of thousands of spectators and thousands of dancers, singers and drum groups, judges and other participants. These combined activities have a more than $44 million economic impact on the City of Bismarck and the surrounding region. But this should all come as no surprise, as the indigenous peoples of the Great Plains have been an integral part of this area for countless thousands of years.
Mayor Warford, to his credit, has taken important steps to visit us on our campus and understand our role in the community, something not always done by city officials since our founding. Where once our contributions went unrecognized, we are now beginning to see a response to our needs and our contributions within city and county government.
Further, as President of United Tribes Technical College since 1977, I have seen many changes in the way our students and staff and other Indian citizens of Bismarck people are being treated in our community. When we first opened, there was a separate bail schedule for Indians and non-Indians in the Municipal Court. There were different requirements among Indians and non-Indians for obtaining an identification card that used to be issued by the Burleigh County Clerk of Court. The old Patterson Hotel still had a statement under the glass on its check-in counter that said "We do not rent to Indians." Our students could not cash checks at local businesses. Even our non-Indian staff often were discriminated against in finding housing, let alone our Indian staff and students. Much of this kind of overt racism has disappeared, thankfully.
Despite all of these changes, despite an increased recognition of our contributions to this community, we are often still treated as if we were outsiders, or a special interest group, or as if we should be patronized as if we were still children at the old Bismarck Indian School. Just in the past year, one or more of our students have experienced several incidents of discrimination that are discouraging and give us even more reason to believe that a lot more work towards the goal of ending discrimination is necessary in this community.
Among other things:
1) Just two weeks ago, a staff member who works with student housing was confronted with a landlord who had rented a home to one our of our students who began using racially charged language to the staff member. This incident happened despite the nearly 10 year existence of the North Dakota Fair Housing Council and its tireless efforts to ensure that housing discrimination becomes a thing of the past.
2) Some of our students are convinced, based on some recent incidents that are still under investigation, that racial profiling may still be occurring within our City Police Department. To this end, I propose that we create and install a Police Citizens Advisory Council that works with the Bismarck Police Department to help the police with issues of racial sensitivity, community relations and cultural diversity, and that further assists the Police Department to recruit policemen and women of diverse cultural and racial backgrounds.
3) This past fall a student at a local high school was confronted with a totally inappropriate and offensive use of an Indian mascot relating to a sports activity. We hope this incident became a learning tool both for staff and students, but nevertheless, it remains an unfortunate indicator of community attitudes.
4) One of our students conducted a non-scientific, but nonetheless telling, poll about racial attitudes among students at the University of Mary. His poll results showed that stereotypical and often discriminatory attitudes towards Native Americans still widely exist. His poll simply confirms what was found on a state-wide basis by the Department of Labor poll conducted last year.
5) A few years ago, some of the sons and daughters of Indians students at United Tribes who are attending local schools experienced a number of situations where they felt discrimination or lack of sensitivity to their needs at the hands of teachers and administrators. We welcome the effort of the ASSIST committee, which is working with the Bismarck Public School District and the School Board to remedy these and other learning issues affecting our Indian students in the public schools.
In all of this, we must recognize the need to make improvement not only in our attitudes but also in our capacity to provide sanctions when discrimination occurs. This effort must start with the attitudes of the public officials and the business leaders of our community. These leaders must stand up and say publicly that discrimination of any kind, overt or covert, must not be tolerated in our community. They must be willing to say these things in our civic organizations, in our schools, in our churches, in our political meetings and in our workplaces. They must be willing to take and support concrete steps to prevent discrimination from occurring, like supporting the continuation of our Bismarck Human Relations Committee. They must be willing to support giving that effort the legal tools needed to allow investigations of discrimination complaints to proceed and to provide sanctions against those who would discriminate, and to help prevent discrimination from occurring in the future through education and other preventive measures.
This effort must be continuous, and not a one-time effort. Prejudice and racism are attitudes that are passed from generation to generation; and relearned, and each generation must confront it anew and learn how to prevent it from occurring and from being passed on to successive generations. It is not something that cannot just be done away with permanently, as you would demolish a building.
In short, we will need more meetings like this. More importantly, we need to commence and sustain a dialogue with each other, as fellow members of the community, with all the respect and dignity that we can give this effort.
In the end, what we will get is a community that is vibrant, exciting, rich in personal, cultural, religious and spiritual resources, a community confident about itself and its place in the world, a community that embraces diversity and welcomes new ideas, without losing the feeling that this is a community in which we feel comfortable raising our children, running our businesses and living our lives. This may seem like a tall order, but I know that if we as well-meaning, hard working people commence a sustained dialogue on these issues, this kind of community is possible.
Again, Mayor Warford, and the Human Relations Committee, thank you for this opportunity to speak, and to begin a serious community discussion on these issues.