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An Institution Rooted in Native Values
23 December 2011

David M. Gipp
David M. Gipp

By Dr. David M. Gipp, UTTC President
      During the recent all-campus Professional Development Day, I described the values and characteristics that should guide the behavior of each and every one of us at United Tribes. It was natural that we inherited Native Values from our college founders, a generation of tribal leaders who embodied in their conduct and leadership the virtues common throughout Indian Country.

      Among these, as I mentioned, were honesty and integrity; courage and persistence; humility; pride in one's worth, work and service; and loyalty and commitment to your fellow students and employees, and the organization.

      I asked that you set your work and educational compass daily by what we value, regardless of your position at the college. Whether you are a teacher or student, bus driver, student aid, or counselor, administrator or clerk, think of how you conduct yourself according to values we hold dearly.

      Over the past several years, many members of the United Tribes staff, faculty and students engaged in a comprehensive self-study that looked closely at what the college does as an institution, seeking to determine whether our mighty output of energy and effort is effective in achieving our educational goals and objectives. The answer came back - with a resounding affirmation of our work - in the form of continued accreditation for the next 10 years.

      It will only strengthen our success and the success of our students if we all continue to apply the values that emerge from our better selves throughout Indian America and at United Tribes.

Phil Baird
Phil Baird

Educational/Institutional Values
By Dr. Phil Baird (Sicangu Lakota), VP Academic, Career & Technical Education
      Described and explained in detail here are the concepts that shape the educational and institutional values at the heart of United Tribes Technical College. These act to ground this organization in native culture and help make it one of the nation's premier tribal colleges. These were described in the college's 2011 Self-study Report. The beginning letter of each word collectively spell out "United Tribes."

      As reflected by its institutional name, United Tribes Technical College was founded on the principle of being "united." Indigenous groups in the northern Great Plains embraced unity to ensure survival of their People. In the 1960s, a call for unity focused initially on significant political issues facing the tribes of North Dakota. These issues impeded tribal efforts to rebuild Indian Nations during the 20th Century.

      As tribal government leadership began addressing the need for stronger economic development, the concept of a regional employment training center emerged as a unified approach toward human resource development among the Great Plains tribes. The idea became reality in 1968-69, and has continued to evolve over the past 42 years from United Tribes Employment Training Center to United Tribes Educational Technical Center to United Tribes Technical College. As the name confirms, the organization today remains "united" in all it does to rebuild Indian Nations in the 21st Century.

Native American
      The core of UTTC's organizational character stems from the cultures of those descendants of America's "Original People," the indigenous groups inhabiting North America before Columbus. Seen in their cultural context, each tribal group has their own way for how they identified themselves in their native tongue. Today's tribal college students are acclimating to the generic term Native American instead of American Indian used by an older generational group. Given either terms, the nature of indigenous identity is important to UTTC because of its complex nature.

      What is most important, and something that many people do not understand, is the legal and political status of First Americans that is also carried by tribal college students. It derives from the legal relationship Indian tribes have with the United States as distinct political subdivisions of government, stemming from treaties negotiated according to the U.S. Constitution. It is clear that continuing efforts emanating from other political subdivisions to ignore, challenge or otherwise terminate this legal status have a strong adverse effect on Native American identity. UTTC's mission is to inform, educate and cultivate future generations of tribal leaders in spite of the prevailing climate where racial or ethnic characterizations are offered by an uninformed public that fails to distinguish the unique, legal status Native Americans have as tribal, state and U.S. citizens. Future leaders will need to understand the full context of being Native American to ensure the survival of Tribal Nations and their homelands.

      Among core values, most people appreciate an individual who embodies integrity. This value is represented by honest and humble individuals, who support advancing the truth, who approach situations and people with fairness, and who are consistent and dependable. It is not just talking the talk, but "walking the talk." People recognize the person who carries himself/herself with integrity. This is not just a tribal value, it is a character trait highly regarded across the cultures whether it be community, governmental, institutional or corporate. UTTC strives to develop graduates who understand personal, cultural and professional integrity and adopt this value in their lives. Toward the purpose of rebuilding Indian Nations, the college has an important role in nurturing future leaders who will act with integrity in making decisions that affect self-determination and self-sufficiency.

      A long history of broken promises (e.g., treaties) by the federal government make Native people cautious about who to trust and who to hold in high regard. Trust is measured in the level of confidence one has in a decision, action or individual. We make decisions and take action by ourselves and through groups. Leaders are watched closely for consistent behavior that will reinforce trust among the people. In the higher education setting, college students "trust" that curricula and related services will provide them with the knowledge and skills needed for a better life. Staff and faculty look to administrators to assess situations fairly and make decisions for the greater good of campus stakeholders. An educated tribal citizenry has come to recognize the building blocks of trust: accurate assessment of situations, honest communication with people, carrying one's self with authentic humility, and making decisions for the benefit of many and not just a few.

      Like most educational institutions, UTTC aspires to promote lifelong learning, not just to impart or to transfer enough knowledge and skills for a student to graduate. Why? Knowledge in itself does not make one wise. It is the use of knowledge that is informed by life's experiences that contributes to the highly-sought value of wisdom. In today's society, one hopes that the accumulation of knowledge through education will lead to responsible use of wisdom for the betterment of one's self, family and community. The time students spend on the UTTC campus is relatively short considering the arc of one's life journey. This period of formal education is a time to develop a pattern of lifelong learning, self-empowerment, self-determination, and to work on developing the greater gift wisdom.

      With 565 federally-recognized tribes in the United States, UTTC is in a unique educational position to recognize diversity within and outside of "Indian Country." Native cultural pluralism is strongly represented internally among the students at UTTC, bringing with them a sense of "home," whether from original tribal homelands, rural reservations or off-reservation communities.

      Based on UTTC's location, diversity is also present in nearby mainstream communities in terms of ethnicity, socio-economic backgrounds, political ideologies, educational levels, and age demographics of the population. The college strives not only to inform its students about the characteristics of diversity, but to encourage cross-cultural interaction. An initiative supporting this is underway with UTTC, Bismarck State College, and University of Mary. The opportunity to interact will lead to better informed graduates who appreciate the many aspects of diversity in the world.

      The lives of Native People are sustained and validated in large part by upholding cultural traditions and values as practiced by their ancestors. This is threatened, however, by the loss of native languages, which in turn diminishes indigenous knowledge about values, traditions and ceremonies. Tribal educational institutions have worked hard over the past four decades to reverse this trend. The challenge is huge with pressures of social prejudice, racial stereotyping, "English only" political agendas, and the lack of educational resources to support bilingual/bicultural programs. The challenge is made more difficult for UTTC in that 50 or more tribes may be represented among the college's student population.

      Nevertheless, like most tribal colleges and universities, UTTC is committed to promoting knowledge about Native American traditions and practices. When appropriate, the college allows for student access and participation in campus-based Native ceremonies such as the inipi (Lakota sweat lodge purification). Institutional policies are flexible to enable students and staff to return to their home communities to practice Native ceremonies and traditions.

      A person's world view and experiences shape how they consider, and offers respect for, all that comes into life. Respect a value by which one assesses what is important and to be held in high regard has different meanings. Recognizing the diversity among community members, UTTC strives to encourage people to be open-minded about what is both common and different among themselves as human beings. The college has an advantage in that many of its learners come from indigenous cultural backgrounds that promote respect not only for the human side of life, but also for the natural and spiritual elements of their world. Because not all are blessed with this knowledge and life experience, the college asks that its community members respect themselves individually first, since this can open the door for broader high regard respect for the world around them.

      The terms self-determination and independence go hand in hand. In the early 1970s, the federal Indian Education & Self-determination Act was passed by Congress to offer what Indian tribes had long desired the opportunity to be the central part of decisionmaking and allowing them to control their own destiny. Since the arrival of Columbus, indigenous tribal groups were subject to external decisions that impacted their lives. The federal government assumed the role of "trustee." The government was the paternalistic caretaker of Indians for nearly 200 years before the policy was finally revised to create ways for tribes to pursue self-sufficiency. As a tribally-controlled postsecondary education institution, UTTC believes that education is the most powerful tool in attaining and maintaining independence.

      Bravery is a value that comes from human experiences involving goal-attainment, challenges, adversity and hardship. UTTC students and staff know very well the situations that call for bravery and courage. Native Americans have not found it easy to pursue educational opportunities. Social and economic barriers abound. College administrators have been challenged for decades to prove the validity of tribal colleges in the education world. Success in the "tribal college movement" these past 40 years came because tribal leaders and students had the courage of their ancestral warriors, men and women alike. Today, bravery continues to be valued at UTTC in facing and overcoming hardships and adversity, and achieving personal and institutional goals.

      The college values a learning environment that promotes teaching, service and learning that is relevant to the campus community. This includes concern and care that the campus environment is safe for adults and children, and for the larger environment around us. Indigenous cultures refer to this as Mother Earth or Grandmother Earth. Since this environment is perceived by Native groups to be all encompassing of both natural and spiritual worlds, it follows that the health of Grandmother Earth will have a direct impact on human life. The college promotes understanding and respect for the environment through formal coursework, with cultural education activities including prayers and ceremonies, and projects about pressing environmental issues, such as climate change and the quality of our natural resources.

      People believe there is a "power" or "force" that guides the human experience in interacting with elements of the universe. This belief is interpreted commonly and distinctively among the world's religions. Among Native American cultures, spirituality is one of the four dimensions of human life that "make a person whole." As a tribal college promoting native cultures, United Tribes Technical College encourages its students and staff to embrace spirituality in their daily lives. This value is reinforced in tribal culture through prayers, ceremonies and traditions that have evolved over the centuries. It is common today for meetings and events to open with prayers offered from traditional Native American and Christian practices along with quiet moments of spiritual reflection. Drum groups will open campus events with traditional songs. UTTC believes in a multi-dimensional educational experience that nurtures the whole person.

      Mitakuye Oyasin


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