Sisseton Wahpeton College Creates Institute for Study of Dakota Culture

Feb 15th, 1991 | By | Category: 2-4: Teaching: Community and Culture in the Classroom, Tribal College News

Working to preserve the traditional art, culture and values of the Northern Plains, Sisseton Wahpeton Community College established in February the Institute for Dakota Studies.

The institute is one part of a comprehensive development plan for the college, located in Sisseton, South Dakota, that includes renovation of the library, expansion of the college’s vocational education program and the opening of a new community education center. Accreditation, perhaps the college’s top priority, was granted in August 1990 by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

The institute, one of the college’s newest projects, will teach, research and preserve Dakota history, language and culture. Formal dedication is planned for May 3.

According to college President Gwen Hill, Dakota culture remains undervalued in the nation. The Institute for Dakota Studies, she says, will help build an understanding of the region’s history and traditional culture.

“Like most two-year institutions, Sisseton Wahpeton College’s first commitment is to instruction,” she says. “As a tribally controlled college, however, our mission must go beyond instruction. We must provide research into history and culture, we must be concerned with the language and traditional arts of Dakota people.”

“While much has been done with Lakota culture, far too little has been undertaken with Dakota traditions and history,” Hill says.

The institute will focus on four goals: First, it will provide formal and informal instruction; second, it plans to research the history and culture of the Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe and other Dakota people; third, it will work to find new and more appropriate ways to study Native American culture and language; and, fourth, it will preserve this new knowledge of the tribe and the region.

Jim Green, the director of the institute, says this research has far more than academic value. Instead, this knowledge of Dakota history, language and beliefs is relevant today and can be used to empower the tribe.

“In economic terms, real growth often occurs through a process called ‘import-replacement,’ ” says Green. “That is where an entity stops importing so many products and starts producing the products for themselves. Eventually, the growth area even begins exporting their work to others.

“The identical process works in education,” he says. “That is the type of growth I see for (the college) through the institute.”

In addition to the Institute for Dakota Studies, President Hill says the college has several projects planned for the future. The college is preparing to offer an A.D.N, program in nursing to help meet the region’s pressing health care needs. Also, she would like the college to become more involved in telecommunications and the development of a tribal archives.

Equally important, she says, is the need for continued cooperation among tribal colleges. “It is essential that all tribal colleges work together since we face so many common obstacles.”

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