TCUs have long led the way in safeguarding cultural knowledge

Feb 6th, 2014 | By | Category: 25-3: Preserving and Protecting Knowledge
By Rachael Marchbanks

In this issue we explore the unique ways in which tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) safeguard sacred knowledge while passing along culture and tradition to future generations. Although new technologies may continue to change the way in which knowledge is preserved and shared, TCUs have been leading the way in such initiatives since the inception of the very first tribally chartered college.

Just over 45 years ago, leaders of the Navajo Nation made history by establishing the nation’s first tribally controlled college in 1968: Navajo Community College. While there were federally chartered schools such as Haskell and the Institute of American Indian Arts, there were no institutions of higher learning run by and for Native people at that time. Recognizing the need for a college that instilled and enhanced tribal culture and supported American Indian students, Navajo leaders lobbied federal lawmakers who eventually helped secure funding for the college with the passage of the Navajo Community College Act in 1971. The college, which at first offered just one associate’s degree, gained further traction with its accreditation in 1976. Now known as Diné College, it operates six campuses in New Mexico and Arizona and offers both two-year and four-year degree programs in multiple disciplines.

The Diné leaders supported other tribes’ efforts in self-determination and several additional TCUs were chartered soon after. To serve as a unified voice and help promote their collective vision, Navajo Community College and five other TCUs established the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) in 1972. AIHEC succeeded in convincing Congress to pass the Tribally Controlled Community College Act in 1978, which helped provide financial support for the TCUs. Although the colleges continue to struggle for adequate funding, AIHEC’s membership has grown from six to 38 TCUs over its 40-year history.

In addition to creating AIHEC, TCU leaders established both the American Indian College Fund and Tribal College Journal in 1989. This fall, after 25 years of chronicling the tribal college movement, TCJ will publish a special anniversary edition for its 101st issue. Whether you have been with us from the very beginning or if you are just joining us now, we hope you will help us celebrate and we look forward to many exciting years to come.

Rachael Marchbanks
Publisher, Tribal College Journal

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