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Remembering Shirley Chisholm
4 January 2005

By David M. Gipp:

      I and others involved with tribal college movement noted with sadness the passing of former Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm. She died January 1st at age 80. She was a friend to us and a crusader for justice.

      I vividly recall when she assembled the Congressional Black Caucus, of which she was a founding member, to help tribal colleges. We met in a small room on the House side in the U. S. Capitol in Washington. Some of our AIHEC presidents and representatives were there to gain support for enacting the first "Tribally Controlled Community College Act."

Former Congressman Shirley Chisholm
Former Congressman Shirley Chisholm

      The late Stanley Red Bird, chairman of the Sinte Gleska College Board of Trustees, spoke about the students and the people at home who could benefit. His speech in Lakota was translated into English.

      Jim Hena represented former Navajo Community College President Thomas Atcitty. He told about the support in his area for passage of the law. Others, representing the 10, or so, member schools at that time, spoke as well.

      Serving then as AIHEC executive director, I introduced our speakers and elaborated on the request for support from the Black Caucus.

      Congresswoman Chisholm was eloquent in her expression of support for the Tribal Colleges. She gave the legislation her blessing and urged her colleagues to support it as well.

      To be sure, her remarks were key in assuring the support of the Black Caucus and passage of the bill in the House of Representatives. It was signed into law in December 1978.

      Those who knew Shirley Chisholm remember her grace and kindness, her candidness and outspoken nature, and, above all, her commitment to just causes.

      She was a great lady! She will be missed!

by Twila Martin Kekahbah:

      I too was saddened to learn of Representative Chisholm's death. I had only the highest admiration and respect for her humanness.

      In a time when it would have been politically beneficial for her to support only the Black causes, she used her influence to work with Tribes, specifically Tribal Colleges.

      She frequently reminded Blacks about the hardship of their backgrounds and that the way to racial equality was to ensure unity among minorities.

      In the late 1970s she visited Haskell and Baker Universities; one of her interests was the underground freedom routes. I remember her telling me that when she was a child she used to pretend she was an Indian, having heard or read only the romantic version of an Indian Princess. She noted her shock and excitement at meeting American Indian woman who were involved in welfare reform; apparently she was led to believe American Indians were extinct.

      Tribal people and Tribal Colleges mourn the loss of a great friend who was committed to racial equality for everyone.


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