TCU Leaders Attend Obama Visit to Standing Rock

Aug 14th, 2014 | By | Category: 26-1: Celebrating 25 Years, Tribal College News
By Patty Talahongva

President Obama and First Lady Michelle underscored the importance of higher education during their visit to the Standing Rock reservation. Photo by Dennis Neumann, UTTC

President Barack Obama addressed tribal leaders at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, on June 13, 2014. His historic visit was witnessed by several tribal college presidents—current and past.

David Gipp, the chancellor at United Tribes Technical College (UTTC, Bismarck, ND) was in the audience. “I’m originally from Standing Rock. I’m Hunkpapa Lakota and I was privileged to see and observe and listen to the president and his wife at Standing Rock.” Gipp was president of the college for nearly 37 years.

President Obama charmed the crowd by attempting a Lakota greeting which came out partially right, but was met with enthusiasm. He stated he was happy to be making his first trip to Indian County as President of the United States. One well-wisher in the crowd yelled, “We love you Obama,” to which he replied, “I love you back.” A little later, someone yelled, “We love Michelle too!” The president replied, “Of course you love Michelle. Who doesn’t love Michelle?” It prompted much laughter before the president got into the purpose of his visit.

What caught Gipp’s attention, however, was when the president mentioned the work of tribal colleges in his speech. “We’ve made major investments to help grow tribal economies—investments in job training and tribal colleges, roads and high-speed internet, energy, including renewable energy,” Obama stated.

And then the president invoked the words of a famous chief. “I want to focus on the work that lies ahead. And I think we can follow the lead of Standing Rock’s most famous resident, Chief Sitting Bull: ‘Let’s put our minds together to see what we can build for our children.’”

“I think his stress on education was really something,” said Gipp. “He did mention the tribal colleges very briefly in his remarks, but a whole lot about how education—and tribal colleges in this case—can help rebuild America. . . . Certainly in the in the case of our tribes and tribal territories [they can] help rebuild tribal nations through the education of our young people, [who] for the most part are attending the tribal colleges.”

Obama went on to state, “Let’s put our our minds together to improve our schools—because our children deserve a world-class education, too, that prepares them for college and careers. And that means returning control of Indian education to tribal nations with additional resources and support so that you can direct your children’s education and reform schools here in Indian Country.” The president also stressed the importance of culture, adding, “And even as they prepare for a global economy, we want children, like these wonderful young children here, learning about their language and learning about their culture, just like the boys and girls do at Lakota Language Nest here at Standing Rock. We want to make sure that continues and we build on that success.”

Lionel Bordeaux, president of Sinte Gleska University, was also in the audience to hear the president’s historic remarks. “He did make it very clear that he wants to return education, Indian education, back to Indian Country,” said a pleased Bordeaux. “That ownership, and control and policy and even budgeting— all those things need to be in the hands of tribal nations and tribal peoples and I think that was a very poignant, very direct statement because we are controlled too much by the states and their policies—by the regional accreditation associations in the nation when it comes to post secondary education. . . . We need to devise and develop our own system that helps us deal with quality and standards [and] quantity, in terms of outcomes and development.”

Both Bordeaux and Gipp noted they left the event optimistic that they have a firmer commitment from the White House to make the changes they need to improve Indian education at all levels.

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