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DORREEN YELLOW BIRD COLUMN W: Tribal college funding pays

hen news came across the wire Thursday afternoon that, indeed, United Tribes Technical college in Bismarck finally was funded $3.5 million for operations, I knew there would be a great sigh of relief from Dave Gipp, longtime president of the college.

hen news came across the wire Thursday afternoon that, indeed, United Tribes Technical college in Bismarck finally was funded $3.5 million for operations, I knew there would be a great sigh of relief from Dave Gipp, longtime president of the college.

Gipp's name is as synonymous with UTTC as drums are to powwows. This 30-year veteran of skirmishes with the government has proved he is well worth his presidential status when it comes to the tribal college movement.

This hasn't been easy for Gipp.

His trek across the country to Washington is a well-worn path. This is the fifth year UTTC has been left standing outside the funding cycle. They pound on the doors of the government for funding regularly. And it seems not unlike those American Indians of olden days who battered the doors of the forts for a pittance of the government's promised food.

I asked Gipp why they had to continue to ask for funding when 31 other nationwide tribal colleges seemed to skirt this problem? It wasn't an easy answer.

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UTTC, he said, is not considered a tribal college (31 tribal colleges are funded by the Tribal College Act) but an intertribal college, one endorsed by five tribes in North Dakota and South Dakota. Under the law, funding is for tribal colleges endorsed by their tribes, and they endorse their own colleges. But the tribes do support this intertribal college.

That's not really a problem, Gipp said, because they are funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs under the authority of the Snyder Act of 1921, and they also operate under the PL 93-638, The Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act, 1975. This gives the bureau the authority to fund Indian organizations (and this intertribal college). They have the endorsement of tribes and work under their auspices.

I could hear in his voice the tiredness that comes from years of dealing with the federal government.

Why doesn't UTTC try to change the law so they would be in the funding loop of the Tribal College Act or change their status from intertribal to something else? Gipp seems satisfied that, with the help and support of the North Dakota congressional delegation (and other legislatures) they have funding.

They've had to convince the bureau that they are not just an "add on" or an "earmark." They have overcome the limitations of the current Continuing Resolution by which the government is operating, and they will receive funds until Sept. 30, when they start the process all over again.

Gipp said it is a decision of the bureau, Secretary of Interior and the Office of Management and Budget, which requests funds in the president's budget.

And why haven't they been given those annual operating funds regularly?

They never quite gave him a satisfactory reason. They did come up with a few minor reasons, but it is basically a political decision, he said. It seems to depend on whether they are "in favor" with these political agencies.

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Then, Gipp happily said, that on his last trip to D.C., they gave them the funding and the hope that they might be "in favor" next year.

I couldn't help but think of this college like a puppet dangling on a string with the control held by some bureaucratic yahoo.

Are these colleges doing well for Indian reservations? First, about 51 percent of the population on reservations is younger tha age 25, so there is a student population. Gipp understands the meaning of these figures and looks toward filling UTTC with a student population of 2,000 maybe four or five years out, he said.

Currently, it has 1,000 students enrolled, but another 100 attempted to enroll but had to be turned away because of space limitations.

UTTC also supports the other tribal colleges in the area that also have growing student numbers. There doesn't seem to be competition among the college for students like there are among some of the state education institutions. And these colleges are feeding students into those state systems after two years of acclimation to learning institutions at the tribal colleges.

According to the 1998 Carnegie Report, Gipp said, student entering colleges and universities have a higher rate of success after they've attended a tribal college because they are better acclimated and prepared.

UTTC provides tutoring and counseling classes because the reservation education systems are not adequately serving Indian students, and they are coming to college ill-prepared, Gipp said.

Gipp said 85 percent of the students who graduate from tribal colleges will stay in the state. Students who attend tribal colleges and graduate usually return to their home areas or stay in the state.

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The five tribal colleges in the state are a good investment for the state.

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