As an employee of the American Indian College Fund (the Fund), I had the opportunity to participate in one of our bi-annual tribal college tours. These tours give current donors, potential donors, corporate executives and anyone who is curious about tribal colleges or the Fund a snapshot of what is taking place at these amazing establishments and how the Fund supports this movement. The trip presented me the opportunity to lead a tour of three of our tribal colleges in Montana, meet individuals who are dedicated to enriching the lives of Indian people through education, and reinforce the fact that there is still much to be done with our mission. My involvement further ignited my passion for my job and solidified my optimism for the future of Indian Country and the success of American Indian students.
We had the opportunity to tour and meet with leaders and students at Blackfeet Community College in Browning, Montana; Aaniiih Nakoda College (formerly Fort Belknap College) in Harlem, Montana; and Stone Child College in Box Elder, Montana. These schools provide top-quality education while interweaving tribal culture, history, and the contemporary utilization of their values into their curricula, making secondary education a viable option for American Indian students and exponentially increasing their probability of success.
The American Indian College Fund provides scholarships to students at these schools who are attaining an education against all odds. We met students who are seeking a college education amidst the struggles of poverty or students who are single parents to two, three or four young children. We met students who are determined to meet their goals without support from anyone or anything other than a scholarship and their dreams. We met students who are Iraq war veterans and students whose one-way mileage to school is equivalent to what the average American travels in a week. These students are seeking an education despite their many obstacles because their tribal college provides a chance at success. Scholarships from the Fund put that chance within reach.
The faculty members at these schools have amazing stories of their own. Dr. Lynette Chandler of Aaniih Nakoda College received funding from the American Indian College Fund to complete her Doctoral degree and went on to develop and direct the White Clay Language Immersion School at the college. This school teaches children the White Clay language and culture in addition to subjects they’d normally study in public school, rejuvenating and preserving the language for future generations.
The individuals on this tour included supporters and potential supporters of the Fund who wanted a closer look at our mission and work. The tour also included representatives from longtime corporate supporter, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., who with combined support from scholarship donations and their employee matching gift program, have supported the Fund with more than $1 million for nearly 20 years. Each and every attendee had a genuine interest in learning about and supporting the American Indian community.
The statement I heard from students again and again is that they were so thankful and a bit taken that strangers would so generously support their education goals. Without supporters like the people I met on this tour, the landscape of Indian education would look very different from the bright and hopeful state it is in now.
While leading this tour, I also was reminded about the significant need for scholarship funds ever present in these communities. We heard wonderful success stories of how students are pursuing their education against great obstacles thanks to scholarship support, but what is not always highlighted is how many others in the community would love a chance at a college degree. While scholarships are the key to the students’ degree attainment, many students work full time and part time jobs in addition to seeking their degree to raise their families.
I am continuously inspired by tribal college students, the faculty at the colleges, and the selfless individuals and organizations that support the American Indian College Fund. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to lead this tour and see firsthand the fruits of our daily efforts. The people I met on this tour understand the complex issues that surround Indian Country and are devoted to the one key that that consistently advances Indian communities in every tribe, across every state throughout the country, and that is education.
Lindsay is the corporate and tribal development coordinator at the Fund.