United Tribes News

40 Years of Academic Leadership
By Dr. Phil Baird (Sicangu Lakota), Vice President of Academic, Career and Technical Education

19 March 2009

BISMARCK (UTN) - Reflecting on the United Tribes 40th anniversary, I got to wondering about those folks who served in academic leadership positions over the years. Some talented individuals have helped guide UTTC from a job training center to the accredited institution of postsecondary education it is today.

Warren Means

      The United Tribes Employment Training Center was established and began offering programs in July 1969 in the areas of vocational training, personal development and adult basic education. This training format was introduced by the Bendix Field Engineering Corporation, which was contracted by the Tribes to organize initial job training activities. There were several supervisors for each of the three program areas like Harlan Smith and Dave Gull Massey.

      When Bendix turned over training operations to tribal control in July of 1971, Rocky Mountain College graduate and Three Affiliated Tribal member Dale Little Soldier was hired for a short stint as Center director. Little Soldier was followed by Warren Means (Oglala Lakota) who assumed his responsibilities in February 1972.

      According to a 1972 annual report, Means began some program reorganization for UTETC and hired Bob Cartwright as “senior vocational supervisor.”  There were other personnel overseeing the center’s operations including Human Resources officer Thelma Stiffarm of Fort Belknap, Montana.

Mike Ward

      Along with vocational training programs, other educational projects and programs were initiated and/or operated by the center. In the early 1970s, Dr. Jim Davis, the current president of Turtle Mountain Community College, served as the initial director of the American Indian Curriculum Development Project. He was followed by Carl Whitman, former Three Affiliated chairman. The work was later picked up by Fort Berthold educators Angelita Felix and Mary Baker.

      Long-time UTTC employee Anne Kuyper recalled being involved in the American Indian Adult Education Project. Dennis Huber was the first Johnson-O’Malley education director when United Tribes assumed control of this program from the state of North Dakota. Dr. Jim Shanley, now president of Montana’s Fort Peck Community College, followed Huber as JOM director and was a founder of the N.D. Indian Education Association.

      The college’s current Wellness Center director, Sheri Baker, mentioned that her dad, Leonard Bearking, was involved with the college at one time in the 1970s. Bearking is known for work that culminated in the important Indian education report, An Even Chance, published in the late 1960s.

Jim Shanley

      When the center changed its name to the United Tribes Educational Technical Center in October 1975, Mike Ward of Eureka, California was selected as the new “education dean.” These and other developments appeared to mark the transition from short-term training to more traditional academic programs.

      It was at this time that Warren Means and the National Advisory Council on Vocational Education initiated a study about American Indian vocational education. The effort attracted the attention of U.S. Congressmen Al Quie and Mike Blouin, who visited the Center and eventually sponsored federal legislation to support Tribal colleges.

      In July 1977, following David Gipp’s arrival as Center director, Dr. Jisjat Minhas of Bunjab, India was hired as the assistant academic dean. He eventually served as the chief academic officer. Minhas, and later Mary Baker, guided the college’s initial accreditation benchmarks in 1982 and 1987.

Jasjit Minhas

      Another Fort Berthold educator, Bennett Yellowbird, provided academic leadership into the 1990s following Baker’s tenure. After he left for graduate school, there were two others who subsequently served as academic dean for brief terms: UTTC graduate and basketball standout Val Finley and his successor, Dominic Silletti.

      During the latter 1990s, Sisseton-Wahpeton educator Dr. John Derby assumed responsibilities as academic dean. Among his prior professional activities, he worked at the Indian education office of the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C. Derby left UTTC in 2002 to become an administrator of the Sioux Falls, S.D. Indian education office.

John Derby

      For four decades, some talented professional Indian educators, mostly from North Dakota’s Indian Tribes, have shaped UTTC’s academic programs and education projects. Their contributions deserve to be acknowledged.

      We invite these individuals and other staff along with student alumni to contact the college and share your stories during this anniversary year of United Tribes Technical College.


Leonard Bear King

Jim Davis


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