Lilly to Support Construction at Colleges

Feb 15th, 2000 | By | Category: 11-3: Native Language, Tribal College News

Lilly Endowment Inc., has made a grant of $30 million to the American Indian College Fund to support construction of educational facilities at tribal colleges and universities. The award is the largest gift ever received by the 10-year-old college fund. The grant is also the single, largest private gift ever made to an Indian organization in the United States, according to Richard Williams, executive director of the college fund.

The $30 million award will support construction of safe, up-to-date classrooms, laboratories, and libraries at tribal colleges. Typically, the colleges are housed in makeshift facilities such as trailers and converted buildings. “A gift of this magnitude gives all American Indian people hope,” said Williams. “Tribal colleges are reversing a century of failure by giving Indian students a holistic academic and cultural education. With this vote of confidence in tribal America, Lilly Endowment will create a legacy for learning at tribal colleges.” The Lilly gift helped the college fund launch the “Campaign of Hope”—a five-year capital campaign to raise at least $120 million to address the overwhelming physical needs on tribal college campuses. The college fund campaign will supplement the money the colleges are raising in their own capital campaigns. Although Congress promised money for facilities renovation in the federal legislation governing tribal colleges, it has never provided any funds for that purpose.

“From our discussions with the college fund, it was clear to us that the physical conditions of the tribal colleges represented a crucial need,” said N. Clay Robbins, president of the Lilly Endowment. The following examples illustrate the needs:

  • Diné College, Arizona–Crumbling buildings show cracks, tiles fall from ceilings, elevators often fail, library is more than half-empty.
  • Little Big Horn College, Montana–Main classroom building converted from abandoned gym.
  • United Tribes Technical College, North Dakota–Housed in an old Army fort built in 1903.
  • Dull Knife Memorial College, Montana–Primary heating provided by an old, unstable, coal-burning furnace.

“My main classroom building is sinking because we can’t afford to shore up its foundation,” said Ron McNeil, J.D., president of Sitting Bull College in North Dakota. “We are doing everything possible to offer education to students who wouldn’t be in college if it weren’t for us. Scarce resources force maintenance and construction needs to the bottom of the list.”

The Lilly Endowment gift follows two other recent capital donations to the college fund. In June, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation made a $2 million grant for construction of math and science buildings. In July, the Tierney Family Foundation announced a gift of $1 million for childcare facilities at the tribal colleges.

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