South Dakota Dollars Under FireMay 15th, 1996 | By tcj | Category: 8-1: Governance, Tribal College News
When the four accredited tribal colleges in South Dakota convinced the state legislature to help support non-Indian students at their institutions, they felt they had won a significant victory. The legislature authorized $50,000 in 1995 and re-authorized the same amount in 1996 with over the two-thirds margin needed. If divided by the number of students, it would be only $125 per student, but it was believed to be an important first step. Across the country, tribal colleges receive federal operating funds for only their Indian students so they must subsidize the costs of educating non-Indian students.
Despite the apparent victory, however, the South Dakota tribal colleges still had not seen any of the money by mid-June 1996, according to Robert Moore of Sinte Gleska University. A single state legislator, Sen. Lee Schoenback, raised a constitutional issue, charging reverse discrimination. He said if the state provided the $50,000, then tribes should be required to pay the state for Indian students who attend state colleges. In an article in the Rapid City Journal, Schoenback said, “The bottom line is that tribal governments have to decide if they really want people to believe they are sovereign, and if they do, then they need to act like it. The state of South Dakota cannot make the same mistake the federal government has made and start subsidizing tribal governments.”
Moore says, “He fails to mention that Sinte Gleska University serves the fourth poorest county in the United States, with 85 percent unemployment.” The tribal university has reduced the unemployment rate; 85 percent of its graduates are employed, he says. Schoenback also neglects to mention that reservation residents and tribal employees pay various state taxes to subsidize state services, including state universities.
The non-Indian students depend upon the tribal colleges for education. They resemble the Indian students–most are first generation college students in their late 20s or early 30s who have responsibilities to local farms, ranches, and families, according to Moore.