Cultural Centers Rise in Plains, Woodlands

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

As log cultural learning centers rise at tribal college locations across the country, hopes are also rising that tribal colleges will for the first time have actual campuses. Tribal colleges are the only higher education institutions in the country built without facilities, according to Rick Williams, executive director of the American Indian College Fund. Most begin in trailers or store fronts abandoned by others. At Fort Yates, N.D., for example, Sitting Bull College (SBC) has needed a new roof on the main campus building for at least 15 years, and the foundation is sinking, causing cracks in the floor and one year, major flooding, according to SBC President Ron McNeil.

Last May, however, volunteers and college staff and students erected the American Indian Higher Education Consortium Cultural Learning Center, the first building on the college’s new 145-acre campus. On the lower floor, student artists will have a studio. The second floor will be used to sell art supplies and the arts and crafts of local artists, eliminating the middle man and making artists more self-sufficient. Located along the historic Lewis and Clark Trail, the building will house a special collection depicting the life of Sitting Bull from the perspective of the Lakota people. The building features a large porch for visitors to look out over the Missouri River valley. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe contributed $4 million toward acquiring and developing the new campus.

Similar buildings are planned at most of the tribal college locations in the United States. Several colleges held grand openings in the last few months, and others were being constructed over the summer. At press time, the following were expected to be completed by fall: Bay Mills, Fond du Lac, Cankdeska Cikana, Diné, Dull Knife, Fort Berthold, Fort Peck, Haskell, Institute of American Indian Arts, Lac Courte Oreilles, Little Big Horn, Little Priest, Nebraska, Oglala Lakota, Sinte Gleska, Sisseton Wahpeton, Si Tanka, Southwest Indian Polytechnic, Stone Child, and United Tribes. In September, three others are expected to be constructed: Crownpoint, Menominee, and Northwest Indian.

The AIHEC cultural centers represent a unique partnership amongst private industry, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the tribal colleges. The Log Homes Council of the National Association of Home Builders donated log structures to each college. Other private companies donated materials and services. For several colleges, the cultural center will be the centerpiece of their new campuses. The American Indian College Fund has started a five-year capital campaign to raise at least $120 million to address the physical needs of tribal colleges. AIHEC is also working with Congress and the administration to raise funds for the colleges’ capital construction.

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