United Tribes News Speech Archives

United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs
Listening Session
Fort Yates High School
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
March 23, 2006

Statement of David M. Gipp
President
United Tribes Technical College

      Senator Dorgan, members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Chairman His Horse Is Thunder, Tribal council members and tribal members, thank you for allowing me to testify today at this listening session that covers the critical area of education. I am David M. Gipp, President of United Tribes Technical College, a tribally controlled postsecondary vocational and technical institution operating since 1969 now serving more than 1,100 students in 15 vocations providing 24 different degrees and certificates.

      You have asked me today to comment briefly on the needs relating to higher education for American Indians and Alaska Natives in the United States. My message is simple: culturally appropriate higher education for Indian people works, and Indian people today want quality, culturally appropriate higher education as never before. Indian students are enrolling in our Tribal colleges and going on to four year institutions and graduate degrees in record numbers. A student who enrolls in a Tribal college is likely to pay back the investment made in that student's education at a 20 to 1 ratio. Graduates are also returning in record numbers to their Tribal Nations to assist in developing tribal economies and improving the life of their people.

      Better than 50% of our American Indian and Alaska Native population is under the age of 25. In North Dakota, our Indian population is the fastest growing segment of our state population. Our students want and need the tools and the resources to qualitatively and quantitatively address their needs. Moreover, these skills are vitally necessary to allow Tribal nations to rebuild their economies, long neglected by the United States. The skills learned in higher education help rebuild infrastructure and reestablish vital tribal government services, as well as improve local economies and business institutions.

      Another exciting area is that of research. More of our Tribal colleges than ever are engaging in research about Indian people, about issues that affect Indian people, and other vital issues, and for once, after more than five centuries of study of us by non-Indians, we are setting the protocols and establishing the methodologies for conducting this research by ourselves. At United Tribes, for example, we have several programs to study indigenous foods. We are developing nutritional diets for our citizens to help them combat record rates of diabetes and other diseases previously unknown to us - diseases caused in part by the introduction of non-traditional foods into our diets.

      But to allow our schools to continue to expand, to conduct vital research and to obtain quality higher education costs money. At the present time, our Tribal colleges receive less than half of the amount per student received by other public community colleges of similar size and scope. What makes this so difficult is that not only is our student population growing, but the Tribes that charter and support Tribal colleges do not have a property tax base from which further support can be obtained. The Tribal colleges, including United Tribes Technical College, are mostly dependent on the Federal government for support of our students, and we are serving the poorest populations in the United States. Yet, as an example, the base funding for United Tribes was again cut out of the President's budget, a situation that I know you have pledged to correct.

      We know that you, Senator Dorgan, and many of your colleagues, have supported in the past and will continue to support the 35 Tribal colleges in the Nation, five of which are in North Dakota, including United Tribes Technical College, Fort Berthold Community College, Turtle Mountain Community College, Cankdeska Cikana College (Little Hoop) and Sitting Bull College here at Fort Yates. But in this era of unprecedented Indian population and student growth, we need your leadership on this issue now more than ever.

      We remain concerned about a number of key areas, in addition to the vital issue of funding for our basic needs, and I will outline these briefly:

  1. We greatly need institutional stability for our Tribal colleges and universities. We cannot be subject to the changes in budget priorities that have plagued our efforts to improve our educational programs in the recent past. It is also unacceptable that adult vocational and technical training funds have been so greatly reduced in recent years. These are funds that allow Tribal communities to grow and prosper, and help make them a vital part of the states in which they exist.

  2. We need the best technology possible for our institutions. Technology is a window to the future for our people. Our institutions and our Tribal citizens are certainly as important as other non-Indian institutions of higher education and their students, and these efforts, again, can produce great payoffs for our nation. We cannot continue to have our educational needs be neglected by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Federal government in general.

  3. Our Tribal colleges need the best facilities possible. Construction funds for basic educational needs, such as science buildings, residences and other education facilities have lagged far behind our student growth. Yet, sadly, we have not seen any commitment to meet these needs from the present administration.

  4. We remain concerned that the President's Executive Order on Tribal colleges and universities issued several years ago is not being fully carried out. For example, a Presidential task force on higher education in Indian country was supposed to be formed more than two years ago, but although attempts have been made to bring this to the attention of Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, our national Indian education organizations have not received any communication back about carrying out this important effort. We appreciate any efforts your office can make sure that this important process moves forward.

  5. We remain concerned that the present administration does not fully support the financial assistance and scholarship programs, such as Pell grants, that so many of our students need for their education. As we have found at United Tribes, the Federal government is paid back many times over for the Federal funds used to support higher education among Tribal citizens. We understand that other priorities exist, such as the war in Iraq. But the needs of Indian country cannot be allowed to take a back seat to the needs of foreign citizens, especially when we know that Indian people volunteer for the military at a rate higher than any other racial group in the United States.

  6. We must continue to make sure that our Tribal elementary and secondary schools are providing students with the tools they need to be successful in tribal and non-tribal postsecondary educational institutions. Too often, we know that our students need remedial help to succeed in our Tribal colleges because they did not receive the kind of education they have a right to expect at the elementary and secondary levels.

  7. We also continue to be concerned about making sure that our Tribal citizens are successful in non-Indian institutions of higher instruction. For example, I am a 1972 charter delegate and present Chairman of the Board of the Indians Into Medicine program (InMed) at the University of North Dakota. Yet, I understand that funding for that program is in jeopardy. Our program has assisted more than 60% of all Indian medical doctors in the United States to receive their degrees. This program must not be allowed to be discontinued, it is too vital a resource for Indian people throughout the United States. The death rate of our American Indian population from preventable and treatable diseases is simply unacceptably high.

  8. We must make sure that the Higher Education Act reauthorization effort goes forward as quickly as possible, and that the needs of Indian students are fully recognized and provided for in that Act. For example, the TRIO programs that provide vital student support services and other institutional support to many of our Tribal colleges should be fully funded, and reauthorized, to make certain that we can continue to assist poor students who otherwise would not have a chance to make higher education a reality. UTTC has not received TRIO funding for two years in a row, although we need those funds to address the needs of a growing college age population. All of the needs of the Tribal colleges should be met.

  9. In another area, Tribal colleges should be offered the opportunity to have funds set aside for vital research that benefits us that is conducted through grants made available through many different departments and agencies of the Federal government. We need to develop our own scholars and professionals, such as teachers, engineers, scientists, doctors and other professionals that will be assisting our communities to grow and prosper. AIHEC will soon be recommending legislation that will provide such set-asides throughout the research programs funded through the Department of Health and Human Services and we urge your support for this legislative effort.

      Senator Dorgan, I cannot emphasize enough how important higher education is to Tribal citizens, not just for the Lakota and Dakota people of the Standing Rock Nation, but also for Indian people and Alaska Natives throughout the United States. Not only does higher education work for Indian people, it also makes it possible for Tribal sovereignty to work, as the studies by the Harvard Project on Economic Development in Indian Country have shown. In your capacity as Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, we need your utmost attention on this issue. Highly educated American Indian and Alaska Native citizens have always been, and should continue to be, a vital part of the human resources of this great Nation.

      Again, Senator, I want to thank you for your outstanding efforts on behalf of all Indian people and Alaska Natives. We appreciate your willingness to listen to our concerns, and we wish you well. Thank you.