Native Village
Youth and Education news

April 1, 2012
Conference highlights tribal college successes

In her first college science class at a non-tribal school, Linda Different  Cloud-Jones got frustrated when she had to identify fungal spores with a microscope, and the professor could not explain why it was relevant.

“I knew that wasn’t the kind of research I wanted to spend my life doing,” Different Cloud-Jones said. “I wanted to change the world for my people.”

In contrast, Different Cloud-Jones spent her first science class at Sitting Bull College, on the Standing Rock reservation, learning about the healing properties of the Echinacea plant and researching ways to harvest the plant sustainably and plant new crops.

Different Cloud-Jones now is a science and ethnobotany instructor at Sitting Bull College. She has a master’s degree in science education and is working on a doctorate in ecology and environmental sciences from Montana State University.  She was one of four outstanding tribal college graduates chosen to speak at this year's American Indian Higher Education Consortium conference in Rapid City.

The 31-year-old annual conference rotates between hosting regions and comes to Rapid City every five years. Nine hundred students and administrators registered for this year’s conference, said Tom Shortbull, president of Oglala  Lakota College and one of the conference coordinators.

The graduate speakers were chosen from the host colleges: Sisseton Wahpeton College, Sitting Bull College, Oglala Lakota College and Sinte Gleska University.

There are 33 fully-accredited tribal colleges in the U.S., and many offer the only higher education in the nation’s poorest areas, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Oglala Lakota College, a tribal college based on the Pine Ridge reservation with 11 campuses and 1,800 students, is the second oldest and largest tribal college in the U.S., Shortbull said. The college started in 1971, and only Dine  College, a Navajo school in Arizona, is older and larger, he said.

Oglala Lakota College has been accredited with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools since 1983, according  to the Higher Learning Commission. In the latest reported year, the school awarded 80 associate degrees, 40 bachelor’s degrees, one master’s degree and 27 certificates, according to the Higher Learning Commission.

Tribal College Journal is a quarterly publication of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium.

The annual tribal college conference, which concludes this evening, is a way for tribal college students to meet each other and enjoy a spring break, Shortbull said. This year, he invited graduates to address conference-goers to  showcase some tribal college success stories.

“We’re producing great products,” Shortbull said. “We do it every year, and this is a great opportunity.”

Shortbull was president of Oglala Lakota College from 1975 to 1979 and has been back in that position since 1995. He said his primary goal is to prepare graduates for jobs on the reservation, and 86 percent of the Oglala Lakota grads do stick around Pine Ridge and work.

Dani Daugherty, another speaker Monday morning, is one of the tribal college graduates who moved off the reservation, though she hasn’t gone far. She now lives in Aberdeen, where she works for the Great Plains Regional Office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“When I read my resume, I always wonder, ‘Who is that person?’” she said. “Honestly, you know, if you go back in my life about 25 years ago, you wouldn’t have imagined the person that you saw having the credentials that I have  today.”

It took Daugherty 17 years to graduate from Oglala Lakota College after her first class. But now, after law school and a term as the first Native American federal law clerk in South Dakota, she is glad she did.

“Whether you’re a traditional student, a nontraditional student -- whatever you are -- we’re all singly, together and in our families making changes in Indian Country,” she said Monday to a room full of hundreds of tribal college  students and administrators. “We’re on the path, and all the people in this room are going to make so much change.”

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