Education Pioneer, Jerry Mohatt, Passes

May 15th, 2010 | By | Category: 21-4: Native American Studies, Summer 2010, Tribal College News

Dr. Gerald “Jerry” Mohatt, the founding president of Sinte Gleska University (SGU, Mission, SD), passed away Feb. 10, 2010, in Fairbanks, AK. Chartered by the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in 1971, Sinte Gleska was one of the six founding members of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC).

Mohatt was born in Omaha, NE, in 1940. Through his work with the Jesuits in the early 1960s, he developed a lifelong relationship with the Lakota people and a commitment to the health and welfare of America’s indigenous populations. In 1971, he left the Jesuit Order prior to taking his final vows and moved to the Rosebud Reservation where he met his wife, Robby, and learned Lakota fluently.

He worked with Stanley Redbird, Sherry Red Owl, James Tydings, and James (Buster) Laurie to establish Sinte Gleska. In 1973, they chose a Lakota man, Lionel Bordeaux, to become president.

“Recognizing his leadership in the early tribal college movement is important. Jerry helped us translate our interests as Native people and make our case with mainstream institutions and people,” says Cheryl Crazy Bull, a former vice president of SGU.

Mohatt later moved his family to Alaska. A professor of psychology, Mohatt established the University of Alaska-Fairbanks (UAF) Center for Alaska Native Health Research after more than two decades of work to develop a nationally recognized biomedical health research program in Alaska. He served as the center’s director.

He was a mentor to new researchers who strove to continue his work with Alaska Native communities. His research project, “People Awakening: Alaska Native Pathways to Sobriety,” is a landmark study in addictions science. In 2008, the university honored him with one of its most prestigious awards, the Emil Usibelli Distinguished Research Award.

During his time at UAF, Mohatt laid the foundation for a joint Ph.D. program in clinical-community psychology between the university campuses in Fairbanks and in Anchorage. He served as dean of the former College of Rural Alaska and the College of Human and Rural Development.

David M. Gipp, who served as the first executive director of AIHEC, says, “He made wonderful contributions to First Nations Peoples and their empowerment. He will be missed in the lower 48 and Alaska.”

Mohatt died surrounded by his family after a long battle with leukemia. The family has set up a blog in remembrance at: http://mohattfamily.wordpress. com/. Donations are being accepted to the Gerald V. Mohatt Memorial Scholarship, Sinte Gleska University Foundation, Attention: David Sandoz, P. O. Box 105, Mission, SD 57555.

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