Our Vision Is Reality: Celebrating 25 Years of Tribal College Journal

Aug 14th, 2014 | By | Category: 26-1: Celebrating 25 Years, Features
By Lionel Bordeaux
STONE-POEM-6-HARRY FONSECA

Stone Poem #6 by Harry Fonseca (Maidu). Fonseca’s painting, inspired by California’s pre-Columbian petroglyphs, appeared on the cover of the first issue of TCJ and in Bordeaux’s original introduction.

In the very first issue of Tribal College Journal, I remembered the first 20 years of the tribal college movement. I am honored to be able to remember some of the achievements of our last 25 years and to look to the future that our founders envisioned for us. Our institutions began as small, local colleges specifically focused on the pressing educational needs of our communities. We have grown tremendously —many of us now are regional institutions, and several have students from all over the United States, Canada, and even overseas.

Our founders dreamed of institutions that revitalized our Native languages and provided education for everyone from our youngest children to our elders—institutions which were nimble, responsive, and which redefined and restructured education for our communities. We are diverse institutions and our diversity makes us powerful, because it is our uniqueness and our focus on our tribal identities and tribal sovereignty that binds us together. Since the early days, our progress has come from our ability to share our successes and our challenges. We celebrate together and we face difficult times together.

Tribal College Journal is another means of sharing—we feature our programs, our students, our leadership, and our successes. TCJ has exceeded our expectations, surviving the last 25 years by telling our stories in words and pictures and by being responsive to an ever-changing media world. Our students are honored for their creativity through the journal and our faculty has a place to share ideas and knowledge.

In many ways, Tribal College Journal has been the documenter of the history of the tribal college movement, and is the voice of the promise that our founders made when they created our institutions. As we look to the future, we must always look back at the histories of our people, the vision of our founders, the dreams of our grandparents, and the strength and courage of our ancestry. We must be present in the day-to-day lives of our students and their families, and we must see the future in the faces of our sacred little ones. The 25th anniversary of Tribal College Journal comes just after the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) celebrated 40 years of its existence. AIHEC is our collective voice as member institutions. It represents our desire for cohesiveness as a group of institutions, brings forward our dreams for equity in funding, and helps us establish national and international education partnerships. TCJ’s anniversary comes at the same time as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the American Indian College Fund, established by other tribal college presidents and me, together with our allies and friends, to bring desperately needed scholarship and program support from the private sector to our students and institutions.

The tribal colleges began with the establishment of Navajo Community College in 1968. We quickly built institutions that have educated more American Indian and Alaska Native students than any other group of institutions in this country. Because of us, there are Native teachers, nurses, business owners, scientists, and leaders serving our people on reservations and in tribal communities across the country. We built relationships with each other individually and collectively with AIHEC. We created a media voice in Tribal College Journal and we created an organization that helps us raise resources for our work in the American Indian College Fund.

Tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) focus on the most important aspects of who we are as tribal nations—our languages, spirituality, economies, land, and our governments. Whatever approach we choose to support the health of our families and to build our nations, we are using the approach that works for us—it is community-based, honors traditional values, and encourages the empowerment of our people at all levels. We lead and we build leaders.

Tribal colleges and universities still have work to do. Our people still suffer from unrealized economic opportunities, a lack of access to adequate health care, housing, and transportation, and we still have not achieved our vision of fully tribally controlled education. We still have partnerships to build and alliances to forge.

The priorities of tribal colleges must also include broadening our reach into more Indigenous communities across the country, and even in the world. We must also take charge of education, advocating not just for tribal control, but most importantly for the ability to evaluate our own programs and define our own standards of performance. These priorities can be achieved with the development of national educational networks such as a National Tribal University, and with the creation of a tribal higher education accrediting body.

Our founders wanted us to not only deliver a quality education in our tribal homelands, but to also reach out to our people living in rural and urban environments. They intended for us to have graduate and professional programs to educate our own engineers, doctors, and lawyers. They dreamed of having the ability to exercise our sovereignty through the development of education codes and departments, and through the development of tribal accreditation using tribal laws and spirituality.

As I stated in the introduction to the first issue of Tribal College Journal, TCUs have much to share with each other and with groups beyond our reservations. We are doing so with national and international partnerships, such as our engagement with organizations like the American Council on Education, the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities, and the World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium. These partnerships helped us achieve land-grant status and facilitated amazing cultural exchanges among Indigenous peoples from throughout the world.

Our reach goes far, but I never lose sight of the core vision of our founders: that we build our families and communities into the abundant, powerful nations of their grandfathers and grandmothers. We are modern Indians; technology is a resource, and communication is critical to our success. We adapt in much the same way as our ancestors did, using the tools that are before us to do the work that keeps us alive.

Tribal College Journal remains a critical part of our story—we desired and achieved a forum to tell our stories, and we share our mission and our vision, so that we can continue to make the vision of our founders a reality.

Twenty-five years ago, my essay, “Commitment to Community: An Introduction to this Journal,” honored how far the TCUs had come. I am now humbled at how much further the last 25 years have brought us. We continue to offer career education through certificates and applied science degrees, to build an educated professional and technical workforce through associate’s and bachelor’s programs, and we educate leaders through an increasing number of master’s degrees. The next 25, 50, and 100 years promise so much more through academic programs, community outreach, research, and partnerships that support our prosperity. One day, all of our children will talk and sing in the languages of our ancestors and all of our homes will be bright with the light of good living.

We are thankful that Tribal College Journal is part of our vision. We are thankful that the mission of the tribal colleges and universities is shared with others through the stories that are told in the journal. I thank all those who have ever been a part of Tribal College Journal. Wopila tanka heca (with much gratitude).

Lionel Bordeaux (Sicangu Lakota) is president of Sinte Gleska University.

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