Reciprocating Generosity

Aug 15th, 2009 | By | Category: 21-1: Celebrating Tribal College Journal's 20th Anniversary, Features, Profiles
By Juan Avila Hernandez

Years before she became editor for the Tribal College Journal (TCJ), Marjane Ambler had already demonstrated her dedication and generosity to the Tribal College Movement.

Ambler arranged for some of the royalty payments from the sale of her first book, Breaking the Iron Bonds: Indian Control of Energy Development (University of Kansas, 1990) to be sent to the American Indian College Fund.

SECOND EDITOR. Marjane Ambler, with "Chance," editor from 1995 to 2006, continues to help generate the magazine today. Photo by Terry Wehrman.

Like the journal’s founder, Paul Boyer, Ambler first experienced the tribal college movement when she attended an American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) conference. “I was hoping that some of the tribal college classrooms could use my book so I caught a ride to the AIHEC conference in 1991,” she says.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Ambler recalls that even contacting AIHEC was a challenge. “You couldn’t find a phone number for AIHEC much less find out where the conference was,” says Ambler, now 61 and semi-retired from a rich career in journalism focusing on environmental and Native American issues.

A native of Colorado, Ambler gushes that being editor at the TCJ was “definitely the best job I ever had.”

It was an opportunity that she may have never known about. Ambler had been writing for several years as a freelance writer for the founding editor, Paul Boyer, when she first discovered that the journal was seeking a new editor through an advertisement in the national newspaper, Indian Country Today. When she applied for the position in 1995, Boyer and the AIHEC advisory board were unanimous in their decision to hire her as by far “the best candidate.”

The magazine moved east from Sacramento, CA, and closer to Indian Country to Mancos, CO. Ambler brought an impressive work ethic and track record to the TCJ. She was a published author; had been an editor at the environmental newspaper, the High Country News (now in Paonia, CO); and had received the prestigious Alicia Patterson Foundation fellowship to study energy development on Indian Reservations in 1980.

Like her predecessor, Ambler ran the journal as a Spartan operation from her home for over two years after starting in the position of editor. “We used my computers… and we just bought a fax machine and a copy machine,” she says.


TCJ VISIONARIES. In 1997, from l: Rachael Marchbanks, Felicity Broennan, and Marjane Ambler, worked on the magazine in a tight space. Photo by Terry Wehrman.

While the journal continued to operate on a tight budget, its finances were improving. Thanks to a grant acquired by Boyer, the magazine could afford to hire a marketing manager in 1995.

Later the magazine rented office space in Mancos, where it is still published today, and grew into a three-person operation. Still, given that the magazine reflected the precarious state of tribal colleges, keeping the magazine afloat was always a struggle.

“There were several times during those years when there was a big question whether the magazine would continue to exist,” Ambler says. “It was clear that we couldn’t ever be self-sustaining.” The magazine’s advisory board authorized a five-year plan that revealed as much. While the board debated the organization’s budget priorities, the magazine’s value to the colleges was never in question. AIHEC boldly decided to continue to subsidize the operation of the magazine.

“The tribal colleges themselves were struggling to exist so it was a big deal to subsidize this magazine. There were a couple of really heart-wrenching meetings, which were traumatic, where our advisory board and the full AIHEC board were just hashing it out: do we need a magazine, can we afford to support it. It was just so moving when they decided that it was important to them and they were willing to make sacrifices to keep it alive,” she says.

The TCJ Advisory Board adopted a policy of only allowing 40% of the pages to be used for advertising, far less than the norm, which meant 60% of the pages could be used for editorial content. They knew that it would limit income in relation to printing costs, she says.

For Ambler, the journal was more than a publication. The support from the AIHEC Board of Directors represented a spirit and culture of generosity that went far beyond sayings and slogans. “It was just this generosity that I saw over and over again,” she says. And Ambler reciprocated.

National AIHEC conferences and board meetings became opportunities to share this spirit with her family and have fun. Ambler brought her husband, Terry Wehrman, and her parents along with her to meetings and camped along the way visiting the colleges. “We felt like we formed relationships. Every time we went to a conference or visited a college, it was like family in a way,” she says. “We’d take our family vacations, Terry and I (and the dog), to the tribal colleges.”

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