Thursday, February 28, 2008

Leaping Forward

February 29 is leap year. I'd like to recognize the signifiant leaps forward that the Indian community has made on its behalf in the past 40 years upon the founding of the first tribal college, which for the first time put American Indians in charge of their own education.

Indian people now see the value of a higher education thanks to education reforms that value their unique heritage; provide Indian role models; and offer a place near home to acquire professional skills. Tribal college enrollment figures speak for themselves: enrollment at tribal colleges grew by 32% from 1997-2002, compared to 16% enrollment growth in higher education overall, according to AIHEC. Over the past 25 years, the number of associate’s to master’s degrees conferred to Native students doubled.

There is still a lot of work to be done. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2000 11% of American Indian/Alaska Natives received a bachelor’s degree versus 31% for the total U.S. population. But in the past 20 years, the number of American Indian tenth graders who expect to complete a college degree has more than doubled to 76 percent.

This year, on leap year, I urge all American Indians to commit to making another leap forward for progress. My personal goal is for all American Indians who want an education and a better future to commit to achieving that goal; and for the American Indian College Fund and other organizations to see to it that everyone who wants an education can attain it. As more people pursue, and get, an education, we will see Indian country transformed, in leaps and bounds.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Need for a U.S. Apology

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd offered a public apology to the Aboriginal people of that nation last week. He told the Parliament there, “The Parliament is today here assembled to deal with this unfinished business of the nation, to remove a great stain from the nation’s soul, and in a true spirit of reconciliation to open a new chapter in the history of this great land, Australia.”

It is time that America apologizes to its treatment of American Indians as well.

What would come of this? Reconciliation and healing.

Bill Bradley, the former U.S. senator from New Jersey, summed it up as follows, in his memoir Time Present, Time Past. "I know that an American living now is not responsible for wrongs committed more than one hundred years ago, but the nation itself is responsible. When governments commit crimes, they must make amends to those who are the victims of crimes. If they fail to do so, they live with guilt. Confronting the dark pages of our history is essential to getting beyond them. Americans cannot naively espouse ideals that our own historic actions refute. Failure to come to terms with having broken treaties and destroyed hundreds of thousands of people undermines our moral authority. How liberating it would be to escape the hypocrisy and become a society that lives by its professed ideals! Making amends does not ensure future adherence to ideals or remove the knowledge of past wrongs--America will always live with that knowledge--but it would allow America to have a fresh start."

Germany's apology for crimes committed against the Jews allowed the country to move beyond the sins of its past to forge a new future. Turkey's refusal to acknowledge the Armenian genocide has left it mired in controversy, unable to more forward without significant obstacles into full acceptance into the EU, whether or not it earns official recognition. The ghosts of our pasts will continue to haunt us, like Turkey, if we do not put them to rest. In religion, to be reborn, one has to ask for forgiveness. In our human relationships as in our spiritual relations, there can be no resolution, no reconciliation, without apology. That is why I stand behind the United States' need to offer an official apology for its policies of the past that, like Australia's treatment of aboriginal people, in the words of Prime Minister Rudd, are "a great stain on the nation's soul."

Monday, February 11, 2008

Follow Your Heart

It may seem like the tried and true thing to write about as we approach Valentine's Day, but the advice is as true today as it is any other time of the year: when it comes to the future, we must follow our hearts.

Many American Indian students' hearts are at home, where their families are, where their history is, and where they envision their future. Often in my travels on behalf of the American Indian College Fund, non-Natives ask me why our people want to stay on the rez. They believe "assimilating" is the most productive way to be part of society.

But the reality is that Indian country is home for many of our students. It is difficult to leave home, and indeed, not just financially. Our connection to the past is at home, and our connection to our people, and our connection to our future.

The beauty of attending a tribal college is that students don't have to leave their culture or their homes to get a first-rate education. They can attend a tribal college on or near the reservation, while attending to the needs of their families, and remaining home. And best of all, tribal college graduates can remain home putting their education to use, and making a difference in the future of their families, their communities, and their people. Without educated future leaders, staying home on the rez will be difficult. Thanks to the education that a tribal college education can provide us in Indian country, our homes are our futures.

Tribal colleges are proving that not only home, but our future, is where the heart is.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


The New York Giants' win in Sunday's Super Bowl was a lesson to people in any vocation of what it means to persevere.

Obstacles may seen insurmountable to us as we journey through our day-to-day lives. And for some of our students who face issues every day, these obstacles may seem bigger than those that non-American Indians face.

For example, some of our students are forced to hitch-hike to class because they cannot afford to repair a car. Or a single mother is faced with choosing to pay for formula for her child or a semester's tuition. Elderly parents may need help buying maintenance medications. And so on.

But like the New York Giants, if we deal with our obstacles one at a time, with the support of a strong team, we will persevere.

Our students are like the Giants' receivers, and the obstacles in their lives are equivalent to those of the defense of the Patriots. Every member of the team assisting those students: from the professors, counselors, financial aid advisers, and others at the tribal colleges, along with donors and the American Indian College Fund, comprise a team that our students can rely upon.

Like a football team, we all succeed when our students win, overcoming the obstacles on the field. It takes every single team maker to mold a champion, but we know all along the truth: our students were champions before they stepped onto the field. It is their perseverance that makes them champions. And we are proud of each and every one of you.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Welcome Ilisagvik College!

It was 27 below zero degrees Fahrenheit in Barrow, Alaska, and there were five hours of sun yesterday. But don't let the winter weather fool you into thinking that nothing much is going on in Barrow! Ilisagvik College is the newest tribal college in the consortium. Ilisagvik College has been around for quite some time, but only recently joined AIHEC. They will receive scholarships in the fall and are eligible for Lilly funds and Mellon opportunities. Welcome to our Alaskan Native friends!