Tribal College Students and Leaders Visit Capitol Hill

Feb 9th, 2016 | By | Category: Online TC News, Tribal College News, Web Exclusive
TCU students and leaders convened with the Senate Indian Affairs Committee on Tuesday.

TCU students and leaders convened with the Senate Indian Affairs Committee on Tuesday.

Tribal college and university (TCU) students and leaders from across Indian Country arrived in Washington, D.C. on Monday to take part in the American Indian Higher Education Consortium’s (AIHEC) annual Capitol Hill visits and lobbying campaign. Priorities for this year include funding equity for TCUs, possible future budget cuts and/or sequestration, and involuntary student loan programs that are tied to institutional Title IV eligibility.

Monday’s meeting included a variety of speakers who presented on topics pertaining to TCU funding and federal education policy. William Mendoza (Lakota), executive director of the White House Initiative on American Indian/Alaska Native Education; Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes (Ho-Chunk), Deputy Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs for Policy and Economic Development; Dr. Charles “Monty” Roessel, director of the Bureau of Indian Education; Arthur Blazer (Mescalero Apache), Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment in the U.S. Department of Agriculture; Leonard Haynes, the senior director of institutional service in the U.S. Department of Education; and Joel Packer, the executive director of The Committee for Education Funding were among the highlighted speakers.

On Tuesday morning, TCU students and leaders convened in the Dirksen Senate Office Building to meet with staffers from senators serving on the Indian Affairs Committee. David Yarlott (Crow), president of Little Big Horn College spoke about the need for Congress to recognize the importance of tribal sovereignty and to support treaty rights and funding for American Indian education. Michael Parrish (Ojibwe) of Bay Mills Community College stressed equity in funding, pointing out the great disparities in the funding of TCUs in comparison to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). “We’re not trying to get ahead of anyone,” Parrish clarified, “we’re trying to catch up.”

Students also made their case before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee staffers, focusing on the importance of TCUs to tribal communities, but also addressing specific AIHEC priorities, such as involuntary student loans which often lead to long-term debt. Floris White Bull (Lakota) of Sitting Bull College told the staffers that her father took out loans back when he attended SBC, then known as Standing Rock Community College, and that he was still paying off his debt when he passed in 2007. White Bull, and AIHEC, maintain that such involuntary loans that are tied to institutional Title IV eligibility are greatly detrimental to students and TCUs alike.

The AIHEC Capitol Hill visits will continue through Wednesday, as TCU delegations meet with representatives and senators from 16 states. On Thursday, AIHEC will conclude the week’s efforts with a debriefing session and meetings with the United States Department of Agriculture on TCUs’ land-grant status.

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