AIHEC Honors Tribal College Founders

Aug 15th, 2000 | By | Category: 12-1: Celebrating Our Students, Tribal College News
DINE FOUNDERS

Founders of Diné College who were present for the honoring ceremony included (left to right) Thomas Atcitty, Jim Hena, Dillon Platero, Ruth Roessel, Bob Roessel, and Guy Gorman. Photo by Katie Bleacher and Dean Everard

The American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) took time out from a busy meeting with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Albuquerque last spring to honor some of the tribal colleges’ founders. The Navajo Nation in 1968 chartered the first tribal college. “When I was growing up, the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) had total control. When you went to BIA schools, they wouldn’t let you in to see what your children were being taught,” Guy Gorman told the crowd of administrators and faculty from tribal colleges and mainstream schools assembled for the Kellogg meeting. “I was on the education committee of the Navajo Nation, and we started talking about it. We asked the parents, ‘How do you want your schools?’ That was the day something happened,” he said.

Navajo Community College (NCC, now Diné College) could have killed the fledgling consortium of tribal colleges, according to Wayne Stein, Ed.D., author of Tribally Controlled Colleges: Making Good Medicine, who served as master of ceremonies in Albuquerque. Instead, the Navajo college supported the birth of other tribal colleges and their organization in many ways. NCC sponsored the first grant to start AIHEC. Tom Atcitty, president of NCC, served as the first president of AIHEC. Jim Hena, a Tesuque Pueblo man employed by NCC, taught AIHEC’s first executive director, David Gipp, the ways of the hill. Today Gipp is president of AIHEC as well as United Tribes Technical College, and he is widely acknowledged as one of the colleges’ best advocates in Congress.

One of the most moving moments of the emotional reunion came when Lionel Bordeaux credited Dr. Bob Roessel for inspiring him over 40 years ago. Bordeaux attended a South Dakota Indian youth council meeting, and Roessel gave a speech entitled, “If it is to be, it’s up to me.” Bordeaux took those words to heart; he has been president of Sinte Gleska University for 28 years. Roessel and his Navajo wife, Ruth, were instrumental in changing the face of education on the Navajo Reservation at Navajo Community College and Rough Rock Community School. Bordeaux also credited Dave Risling, then president of D-Q University in California. “We couldn’t even get an appointment with the BIA. Dave taught us to fight,” he said.

Louis LaRose, a founder of Nebraska Indian Community College, said, “We came in from Nebraska because we saw the vision and wanted to be a part of it…. Later, when I opened the Sioux Falls newspaper and saw that Congress had passed the Tribally Controlled Community Colleges Act, I cried. The vision was reality.” That 1978 law provided the first federal funding for tribal colleges.

AIHEC and the American Indian College Fund presented gifts to the NCC founders; Bordeaux; Gerald One Feather, a founder of Oglala Lakota College; Risling; Gipp; and LaRose. They honored several founders who had died and supporters who were not present, including Helen Scheirbeck and Gerald Brown. They also presented gifts to several people from the Kellogg Foundation.

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