N.D.Jodi Archambault Gillette was back in the Thunderbirds
gymnasium in front of appreciative fans. Only this time she wasn't
dribbling through defenders in a basketball game.
was the keynote speaker for the United Tribes Technical College
2009 commencement ceremony.
dressed in black gowns adorned with eagle feathers and seated in
rows across the hardwood floor were the college's 93 graduates.
that long ago I was sitting where you are now and waiting to receive
my diploma. It was an exciting moment and I didn't know what would
happen next," said Gillette, who was appointed earlier this
year to a position in the Obama administration. "Just a few
months ago I would've never imagined that I'd be in the White House
... working with the president of the United States."
gained national attention and praise across Indian Country in February
when she became the first Native person to serve in a top White
House position since the Clinton era. Gillette works in the White
House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs as deputy associate director
for tribal governments. She is in a position to link the nation's
562 federally recognized tribes with the White House and 20 government
academic qualifications included an undergraduate degree from Dartmouth
College in government and Native American studies and a master's
degree from the Hubert Humphrey Policy Institute at the University
Got Me Here Today'
got me here today is not that I went away to school and got those
degrees," she told more than 400 family members and friends
surrounding the graduates on chairs and bleachers in UTTC gym. "It
really had to do with how I started to understand my purpose."
is on her home court when in the Dakotas. She is an enrolled member
of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Her parents, Betty and Dave Archambault
Sr., raised her on the Oglala Reservation at Kyle, S.D., at United
Tribes in Bismarck, N.D., and at Standing Rock, straddling the two
said she used to believe that growing up and going to school on
the reservation put her at a disadvantage in college. But now, at
age 40, she realizes the value of that upbringing.
makes me feel solid in who I am and where I come from," she
said. "I know my relatives. I know our traditions. I know what
works for us and I know what doesn't work for us. And these things
are fundamental in the way I look at the world."
had directed the Bismarck-based Native American Training Institute,
helping Indian families for more than a decade. Then she got involved
last year in the presidential election campaign as the North Dakota
director of Native Americans for Obama.
the Obama campaign withdrew its staff from North Dakota, Gillette
said she continued to work for the candidate without pay because
she knew he was committed to helping Indian Country. This, she said,
was a reason she was considered later for the White House job.
was doing it because I was tired of everybody accepting the way
things were," she said. "And that's why I was considered
for the position. I wasn't doing it just for myself or to end up
with a job."
Won the Tribes, Lost the State
carried the vote in North Dakota's tribal counties but lost the
state. Gillette considered this a success because of the record
turnout of tribal voters who typically participate less in state
and federal elections than in tribal elections.
believes the election of President Obama started a new chapter for
Indian people. The theme centers on the value of community, something
she and other tribal people instinctively appreciate.
Lakota word for leader is sagye,' " Gillette said. "That
translates as a cane, something you walk with. And this symbolizes
that people lean on you to walk forward. That's something quite
opposite from the European model of leadership with its top
down' approach. Lakota leadership is on the bottom with the common
people and the communities at the top. And that's how you live your
life. You help your people as a leader."
likened this Lakota model of leadership to the style of her new
president believes in the importance of building strong communities
and strong families as the foundation of our future," she said.
"He and people close to him understand American Indian issues.
I've seen that time and time again. I have no doubt he's serious
about changing the way the United States not only recognizes but
strengthens government-to-government relationships."
Work in the White House
her work at the White House she is guided by thoughts of what will
help Indian communities. She often asks herself: What's going to
make a difference?
answer is to take ownership in our own communities. Gillette pointed
to the president's initiative, the "Summer of Service"
program, as an example of how people can get involved.
very traditional and very Lakota to be involved in community service,"
she said. "And there's an important position for young people
to take the lead in changing things that aren't working,
to make a difference."
urged the graduates to take their hope in the new administration
and apply it to the places where they go.
president says time and time again, communities know what works
best for their communities," she said. "Washington is
a long way from places like Poplar, Montana; Pine Ridge, South Dakota;
or Cannonball, North Dakota."
pledged to do everything she can to tell about the struggles in
our future depends on you," she said. "Our grandchildren
depend on you. You are a shining example of taking the strength
of our communities and becoming the dream that our ancestors prayed
Speakers at Graduation
speakers at the United Tribes graduation included Chairman Richard
Marcellais of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and Turtle Mountain
Councilman Jim Baker, both members of the college governing board
of directors. Also presenting congratulations was Miss Indian Nations
XVI Alyssa Alberts, Three Affiliated Tribes, New Town, N.D. The
drum group Oakdale Singers provided honoring songs.
May 8 commencement ceremony concluded the 2008-09 academic year.
Members of the graduating class had earned Associate of Applied
Science Degrees and Certificates of Completion in 16 academic and
vocational programs. One student earned a Bachelor of Science Degree
in Education conferred in cooperation with Sinte Gleska University.
The graduates were from 17 different tribal nations. A reception
followed at the UTTC cafeteria for family members, friends and the
2009, United Tribes celebrates its 40th year as a tribal college
that serves American Indian students and their families. Find more
information at the United Tribes Technical College Web site.
J. Neumann is the public information director of United Tribes Technical
College in Bismarck, N.D.