Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity Digest Volume 7, Numbers 1 & 2

Diversity Digest
Volume 7, Numbers 1 & 2
(July 2003)

Download our print issue (PDF)
Kellogg Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good: Contributing to the Practice of Democracy
Tribal Colleges and Universities: Guided by Tribal Values
Commitment to Diversity in Institutional Mission Statements
Valuing Equity: Recognizing the Rights of the LGBT Community
Creating Border Crossings: Dickinson College at Home and Abroad
Prejudice Across America: A Nationwide Trek
The Accountability Side of Diversity
Percent Plans: How Successful Are They?
Campus Life for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender People
Multimedia, Books and Conferences
The E Pluribus Unum Project

Tribal Colleges and Universities: Guided by Tribal Values, Advancing Academic Study

By Lori Webster, Office of Diversity, Equity and Global Initiatives, AAC&U

Haskell Indian Nations University, one of the oldest American Indian/Alaska Native Universities in the United States, was founded in 1884 in Lawrence, Kansas as part of the solution to the "Indian problem." The United States adopted the notion that education was the fastest and most complete means of teaching American Indian children the "American" way of life. By removing the children from their communities, it would remove the influences of their culture, a factor prohibiting American Indians from becoming "productive and acceptable members" of American society.

Today, Haskell still remains an institution dedicated to educating American Indians. But instead of focusing on the eradication of tribal identity, it is now a center for advanced academic study and cultural preservation, educating about 950 American Indian students.


Seven pillars stand at the entrance of Turtle Mountain College in Belcourt, ND. Each pillar reflects one of the seven teachings of the ojibwe, which are the virtues that guide the Chippewa tribe. The college mandates that the faculty infuse these values into everything they teach (www.turtle-mountain.cc.nd.us).

The forest has been central to the lives and well being of the Menominee Nation for 500 years. The Sustainable Development Institute at the College of the Menominee Nation in Kishena, WI, examines how the Menominee have incorporated the forest and its spirit into their lives and the progression of the tribe. It also examines how the tribe can sustain development in the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs (www.menominee.edu).

The education of American Indians followed an assimilation model from the latter part of the nineteenth century until very recently. Attempts to erase tribal culture and use Western methods of learning defined American Indian higher education, and high dropout rates at American colleges and universities ensued as a result. In the 1960s, when the civil rights movement was gaining force, a "self-determination" movement began among American Indian leaders to redefine tribal higher education.

Defining Education on Their Own Terms
American Indian leaders recognized the power of postsecondary education and the benefits that it could bring to reservations and tribal culture. According to Paul Boyer, president of Boyer Associates, Inc. and former and founding editor of the Tribal Colleges Journal, "It was the very first and most durable effort by tribes to identify and respond to their own needs." An institution that was guided by tribal values and incorporated methods of learning geared towards American Indian students would more aptly prepare students for success. Lack of funding and the minimal resources of the tribes continue to be obstacles, but their perseverance confirms the belief that community-based colleges of their own can also strengthen their tribal nations.

Since the 1960s, thirty-five accredited Tribal Colleges and Universities have been established in the United States. The accomplishments of the Tribal Colleges are reflected in the rapid increase in enrollment over the last twenty years. In 1982, enrollment at the colleges stood at 2,100, but today, it has reached about 30,000. Most Tribal Colleges are two-year institutions, serving a population that generally lives in geographically isolated areas where students have no other means of attaining a postsecondary education.

Hurdles, such as inadequate academic preparation, that prevent American Indian students from academic success at other higher education institutions are being removed by the Tribal Colleges. Boyer attributes progress to the individualized attention from caring faculty that use "strong and creative methods of communicating to the students." Approximately one-third of faculty are American Indian, who serve as role models to the students. Students are extremely satisfied with the education they receive from all faculty and, as a result, they pursue it wholeheartedly, according to Delia Kundin, the Institutional Advancement Specialist at the College of the Menominee Nation in Wisconsin.
Economic and Cultural Goals

The mission of the Tribal Colleges is two-fold and reflects a spirit of self-determination. Created to strengthen tribal nations, tribal colleges rely on two principal strategies. First, they aim to provide coursework that prepares students to find employment after they complete their degree or pursue further education at a four-year institution. Many of the colleges, such as the College of the Menominee Nation, have transfer agreements with affiliated state university systems, such as the University of Wisconsin. Students that graduate from the college receive junior status in the University of Wisconsin system. Students that enter into the workforce help stimulate the economy of the tribal community. Boyer says, "There is a sense of empowerment given to American Indians when they hold jobs that are generally given to non-Indians."

The second aim of the Tribal Colleges is to rebuild a sense of identity. The cultural identity of the tribe permeates almost every facet of life at the college. Different colleges have pursued various ways of integrating the values of their tribe into the curriculum. Some tribes require cultural and language courses as part of the general education coursework while others do not designate specific courses to teach about their heritage. Boyer points to the example of Turtle Mountain College in Belcourt, North Dakota. Leaders there believe that it is impossible to separate culture from vocation because everything that they teach and do is American Indian, so the infusion of their values, culture, and language is incorporated into every one of their courses.

The close ties between Tribal Colleges and the communities they serve strengthens the value system of the colleges. Unlike other higher education institutions, there is no clear distinction between the college community and the community-at-large. Boyer explains, "The colleges want to be centers of community education. For many groups the college library is also the public library, and campuses sponsor community events from political forums to pow-wows." In fact, Congress designated Tribal Colleges as land-grant institutions in 1994 because of the solid ties between the colleges, tribal lands, and economic development (AIHEC, 1999). Graduates are also likely to remain in local communities after earning their degrees contributing to the strong outgrowth of service to the communities.

By embracing rather than denying their cultural heritage, Tribal Colleges have integrated the principles and lessons of the past into the curriculum in order to create a learning process catering to the needs of their students.

A Promising Future
While still facing challenges, Tribal colleges are making a significant contribution to rehabilitating their communities and sustaining their tribal identities. Although tribes are still worried about the future of their communities, it is heartening to compare the percentage of American Indians in professions such as teaching and nursing in the 1960s and today. "In the 1960s, there were virtually none," Boyer said, "but today there is a tremendous increase. Seeing their peers working in their communities in these professions and seeing American Indians in leadership roles fundamentally changes the outlook of the community. It makes the impossible idea of achievement become possible."

The American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) is one unifying force that has built a strong collaborative movement for the Tribal Colleges. It assists in seeking a more diversified base of funding and gives a voice to the Tribal Colleges in the higher education community. The value of Tribal Colleges cannot be denied. They fill a gap left open by Western education and offer the hope of increasing prosperity while sustaining the legacy of their tribes.

To learn more about Tribal Colleges, visit www.aihec.org.


Bay Mills Community College, Brimley, MI
Blackfeet Community College, Browning, MT
Cankdeska Cikana Community College, Fort Totten, ND
Chief Dull Knife College, Lame Deer, MT
College of Menominee Nation, Keshena, WI
Crownpoint Institute of Technology, Crownpoint, NM
D-Q University, Davis, CA
Diné College, Tsaile, AZ
Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, Cloquet, MN
Fort Belknap College, Harlem, MT
Fort Berthold Community College, New Town, ND
Fort Peck Community College, Poplar, MT
Haskell Indian Nations University, Lawrence, KS
Institute of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe, NM
Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College, Baraga, MI
Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College, Hayward, WI
Leech Lake Tribal College, Cass Lake, MN
Little Big Horn College, Crow Agency, MT
Little Priest Tribal College, Winnebago, NE
Nebraska Indian Community College, Macy, NE
Northwest Indian College, Bellingham, WA
Oglala Lakota College, Kyle, SD
Red Crow Community College, Cardston, Alberta
Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College, Mount Pleasant, MI
Salish Kootenai College, Pablo, MT
Sine Gleska University, Rosebud, SD
Sisseton Wahpeton Community College, Sisseton, SD
Si Tanka University, Eagle Butter, SD
Sitting Bull College, Fort Yates, ND
Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute, Albuquerque, NM
Stone Child College, Box Elder, MT
Tohono O’odham Community College, Sells, AZ
Turtle Mountain Community College, Belcourt, ND
United Tribes Technical College, Bismarck, ND
White Earth Tribal and Community College, Mahnomen, MN

Questions, comments, and suggestions regarding Diversity & Democracy should be directed to Kathryn Peltier Campbell at campbell@aacu.org.
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