Episode 6 – Tribal College Movement
In this part of the interview with Tom Davis, he focuses on his journey, challenges, and successes in the Tribal College Movement. Tom is one of the founding fathers of the Tribal College Movement. Tom also talks about the early American Indian Higher Education Consortium.
Started in Denver, Colorado and was headed by David Gipp. David had a lot of ambition and helped set up some of the foundations for the Tribal Movement. There were a lot of challenges due to lack of funds, and the organization wasn’t always perfect. The Higher Education community gave them a lot of opposition while they were starting out as well.
“It was an exciting time and very intense, and of course, there was always the question; can we do it?” Tom Davis
Tom says that one of the ideas driving the movement was that the Tribal Colleges would be different. Tom says that he does see that this is slowly going away and is a sad thing to witness. The idea was that Indian culture was essential, but that they would have to go the extra mile to make it work.
Tom talks about how working on Capitol Hill was a hard challenge. He notes that a lot of universities needed to get accredited. Some of the examples would be having a language in the curriculum and general education. To get degrees for the students, you would need this general education curriculum. This was a lot of work because you would have to do what Tribal Colleges wanted but would not have enough courses left over for degrees that were trying to be developed. The tribes did eventually get the funding and supported the legislation.
Tom talks about how bringing in role models who would understand the community and inspire them. The best would be the ones that would like the people they are serving and bring in American Indian teachers. Tom explains the effect that this collaboration has had even outside of the Indian community. These groups often observe the use of experiential learning at Tribal Colleges, and we learn about the interactions they have with students who are exposed to this learning method. Some of these interactions had racist undertones and would not get some accreditations.
Tom talks about how accreditation is a hard task to complete, but for the Tribal communities, it is worth it. Though it is not an easy task, Tribal communities have been able to overcome these difficulties to succeed. Some students enter Tribal Colleges seemingly lost and without knowing why they are there, but Tom has witnessed so much growth beyond this point. Before being treated to a poem from Tom about this evolution to end the episode, he speaks about a specific example of growth that he has recently seen from a student who was lost at first but is now entering graduate school.