A Look Back to Inspire the Future

Aug 15th, 2009 | By | Category: 21-1: Celebrating Tribal College Journal's 20th Anniversary
By Carrie Billy, J.D.

Carrie Billy (Diné), J.D.

This edition celebrates the tribally controlled colleges’ stories as told over the past 20 years by the Tribal College Journal. Ours are stories of inspiration, growth, innovation, restoration, and occasionally, loss. Together, they help define our identity, and always, they share with the world the unique and essential role that tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) play in Native America.

Now 37 institutions strong, the Tribal College Movement has made tremendous strides since the first journal was published in 1989. One thing has remained constant: our unity of purpose and mission. For the AIHEC central office, that unity has always been the driving force behind our work to achieve our collective vision for American Indian higher education.

In the past 20 years, we have achieved remarkable success in working with the Congress and the respective presidential administrations, including two Executive Orders on Tribal Colleges and Universities, which laid the foundation for expanding federal support to tribal colleges; enactment of the Equity in Land-grant Status Act of 1994, securing a place for tribal colleges in the nation’s land-grant system; establishment of vitally needed TCU facilities and instrumentation programs within several federal departments; creation of TCU-specific programs within NASA and the National Science Foundation to help the colleges develop and expand education and research programs; and the enactment of legislation authorizing (and reauthorizing) funding to help the tribal colleges become more sustainable.

We have worked to establish or expand many more vital programs and partnerships aimed at helping move us closer to parity in the U.S. higher education system. Despite our best efforts, however, much work remains to be accomplished. Tribal colleges remain the most poorly-funded institutions of higher education in the country; Native languages are declining at an alarming rate; the health status of American Indians is in many cases, the worst in the nation; Native people continue to be singled out as the only race of people used as school mascots; and on and on. In short, the “dance of legislation” is never finished.

But every 20 years or so, it is informative and strengthening to look back and assess how far we have come. As the stories in this edition so vividly illustrate, the tribal colleges have made unequaled contributions toward addressing the educational, social, health, and economic development needs of their tribal communities. I hope that these examples provide seeds of inspiration for the future as we work together to fulfill our vision for prosperous, healthy, and strong tribal nations through excellence in tribal higher education.

P.S. As usual, this issue forgoes the usual departments to allow us to share the incredible voices of our student writers.

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