Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), stumbled across a great disparity while
seeking appropriations for the Native American colleges. "It
was appropriations time and I was frankly shocked to discover that
a federally chartered college like Howard University, a school for
African American students, was getting $13,000 per student while the
Tribally Controlled Indian Colleges were getting only $1,700 per student.
Inouye made it his goal to close that gap.
are 37 Indian colleges scattered across Indian country. Most are
located on isolated Indian reservations and for the first time in
the history of this country Native Americans have the opportunity
to seek higher education degrees on their homelands. I believe that
the Indian colleges are one of America's best kept secrets.
years ago, Stanley Red Bird, a respected elder from the Rosebud
Sioux Tribe, made a call to a young man named Lionel Bordeaux who
was completing his studies at the University of Minnesota. Red Bird
told Bordeaux that he was looking for a young man who knows the
Lakota language. He continued, "Your plans have changed. Your
name came through in our ceremonies and we want you to come home
and head up Sinte Gleska Community College, the new college we are
Gleska was named after the famous Sicangu leader Spotted Tail.
left school to return to Rosebud. At a spiritual ceremony he was
handed the Pipe and told that if something was said that he felt
he couldn't handle, he was free to put the Pipe down and walk away.
He didn't walk away and 36 years later, Sinte Gleska is one of the
finest of the Indian colleges.Sinte
Gleska is no longer a Community College, but is now a full-fledged
University. "We aren't there yet, but the circle is getting
smaller and tighter," Bordeaux said at last week at a conference
in Rapid City.
important are the Indian colleges to the Oyate (People)? Early in
the efforts to get Sinte Gleska off of the ground the new chairman
of the tribe fired Red Bird, Bordeaux and most of the staff. Red
Bird organized the people and marched on tribal headquarter. As
the discussions grew heated a Lakota woman carrying a handicapped
child walked to the front of the council. "None of you seated
here have had to raise a handicapped child. I have, and the one
institution that has helped me was Sinte Gleska College." The
council appeared to be embarrassed by her appearance and reinstated
all of the people they had fired.
believes there are two major things that stand in the way of making
the Indian colleges a total success; funding and accreditation.
He believes the Indian colleges had to sacrifice much of the traditions
and culture of their people in order to qualify for the accreditations
that would validate their existence. "We have Lakota elders
with a wealth of knowledge, elders that are traditional Lakota speakers,
who would be a valuable resource for the colleges, but because of
the stringent rules of accreditations, we are hard-pressed to use
them because they do not have the degrees or credentials,"
Bordeaux said. He would like to see all of the colleges push for
accreditation based on tribal law, culture and traditions. "We
need to use our group and our intellect to handle our own accreditation,"
also has high hopes of financial input from the successful Indian
casinos. He said the wealthy gaming tribes are an untapped source
of revenues for the colleges that could open doors for Indian people
everywhere. It has been the dream of Bordeaux and Dr. Jim Wilson,
an Oglala Lakota, to build an American Indian University in the
heart of the Black Hills. They believe the university would strengthen
the Indian colleges rather than weaken them. "All of the Indian
colleges would be beneficiaries and contributors to the American
Indian University," Sen. Inouye said and as Chairman of the
Appropriations Committee, he thinks he can find the funds to make
it a reality.
the conference was about to close, Marie Randall, a Lakota elder
from Wanbli on the Pine Ridge Reservation, stood up to speak. She
said, "I am 88 years old and I just earned my degree from Oglala
Lakota College so now I can teach my takojas (all young people are
spoken of as "grandchildren" by the Lakota).
anyone asks, "How important are the Indian colleges?"
just think about Marie Randall. She read an editorial in the Lakota
Times about a mural in the South Dakota State Capitol Building depicting
white settlers standing on the neck of a prone Indian. She went
to Pierre, confronted then Governor Bill Janklow demanding that
the mural be torn down or covered, and she managed to do what my
editorial could not do; the governor had the mural covered with
a teacher Marie Randall has become and what a role model for the
Lakota children and it would not have happened without the Indian
Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born, raised and educated on the Pine
Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He was the founder and publisher
of Indian Country Today, the Lakota Times, and the Dakota/Lakota
Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)