Episode 5 – Tribal College Movement
Carrying on through the interview with Tom Davis, today he focuses on key points in American Indian Tribal College history involving Wayne Aspinall. He talks about a medicine man and the start of Tribal Colleges. Tom also reads two poems that describe incidents which had a great impact on the Tribal College Movement.
Tom starts by commenting that in the beginning of the Tribal College Movement, the situation in the country with higher education for American Indians was poor. The graduation percentages for these students from regular universities was low, with Tom providing his insight on why this was happening. Tom shares his favorite story from the founding of a Tribal College, which involves a delegation that was sent to DC. Wayne Aspinall, a powerful congressman, who was against the formation of this Tribal College was present at the hearing. A medicine man who didn’t speak English testified to Wayne Aspinall at the hearing, which Tom says turned out to be a crucial moment for the Tribal College Movement.
In the early 1970s, around the same time as the aforementioned hearing, there was a group of people discussing the founding of the tribal college. Tom says a lot of the people in these roles were not educated. He discusses the intense training that medicine people must go through, stating that it is more time consuming than any PhD in the United States. Tom continues on and shares his thoughts on some of the earliest tribal colleges, including ones that were failures. Despite these, Tom was content with the amount of new Tribal Colleges that were regularly being founded. We learn about the mixture of young people with university degrees and elders working together, leading into the constant issue of cash flow.
Tribal Colleges knew that they required federal funding if they wanted to survive long-term. One factor that Tom reflects upon is that many of the Tribal Colleges were located in the poorest towns in the country, sometimes not even having access to running water. He remarks that the Tribal Colleges existed by working together with a sense of community, a feeling that Tom feels isn’t as strong these days. Tom begins a story about a large meeting in Seattle that was attended by many of the people involved in the Tribal College Movement. To illustrate this story, Tom reads a poem that describes how what seemed like an insignificant event to be very important. Tom also talks about the idea that by emphasizing the culture, community and language of the American Indian people, education would take on greater relevance to the people in the community.
Tom believes that the Tribal College Movement has heroes and that they are magnificent people. We hear about a speech that Tom once gave at a conference, during which he said that he had walked among giants despite not being one. Tom was honored and humbled to walk with them and aspired to their greatness. He explains the feelings involved with an American Indian family who never imagined any family member would go to college who finally witnessed just that. Tom expresses the difficulty in achieving accreditation for Tribal Colleges, specifically mentioning one giant who was a key member in making this happen. This transitions into another one of Tom’s poems about the days that heavily contributed to the formation of the Tribal College Movement. He believes that it tells a story that is often overlooked about an important person within the movement.
Tom summarizes the different figureheads that he has spoken about today, comparing ones that were in public doing amazing things to ones that worked in private but were equally as important. Tom says that these little-known people should be noticed and that their names should be shouted so that history remembers them. Tom states that those who write history will tell how history happened even if it didn’t quite happen that way.