Episode 3 Tribal College Movement
Continuing on with Tom Davis’ interview, we begin this segment by listening to a poem that he wrote about Helen Scheirbeck. It gives us an idea of who she was, where she came from, and the importance she had in the Tribal College and Indian-Controlled school movements.
Tom credits Helen with allowing him to visit the White House and teaching Indians how to craft legislation and influence policy. He says that she knew how to build upon small accomplishments so that they became big accomplishments, and as a result, Tom believes that all of American society owes Helen a huge debt of gratitude.
Tom reflects on the fact that Tribal Colleges had no funding when they were first established, and that Helen challenged the Department of Education’s view of not being able toprovide any funding. We hear about how this led to partnerships with community colleges which enabled Tribal Colleges to receive enough money to get started. Not long after this happened, Helen went to an organizational meeting in Seattle with the purpose of drafting legislation to directly fund Tribal Colleges. She began working with a friend of hers to do this, the memory of which causes Tom to talk about how he often used to receive calls in the middle of the night from Helen.
Though the legislation changed several times as it progressed through congress, it did eventually become law. Tom expresses that this moment was when the Tribal College Movement became real. He recalls that Helen had generosity that showed no bounds, helping and connecting with people no matter where they were from.
According to Tom, even after securing funding, it was often difficult to start Tribal Colleges and still is. He shares his estimation of how much publishable material is required to start one today and recalls that because there was such little money at the beginning, people had to work many hours to get anything done. Tom discusses current Tribal Colleges teachers who say they are overworked and then shares a story about the amount of work that Helen, Tom, and others did back in the day.
We listen to Tom’s insight on people who criticized the process that Tribal Colleges had in place, saying that they were right because there were no processes. He explains that the successful colleges which exist today began with sheer guts, determination, and an ability to not listen to the establishment. Tom says that mainstream colleges did not provide much support and in some cases were hostile to the idea of Tribal Colleges. He then talks about how this has formed the way he thinks about people in general today.
Tom shares a quote about the Tribal College Movement being a social service agency with a higher education mission and declares his love for the spirit it encompasses. He wishes that Tribal Colleges could hold on to this spirit forever because of his belief that students should be taught by doing. Tom encourages creating something that is going to last. He hopes that we don’t let process shield the drives, dreams, and willingness to do service out of ourselves.