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Author, former tribal college president Sky Houser passes on

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A long-time veteran of the tribal college movement walked on Jan. 29, 2009. Schuyler Houser died at a hospice facility near his sister’s home in Oklahoma City, Okla. He was 65. At the time of his death, he was the special projects officer for the Scott Bordeaux Leadership Institute at Sinte Gleska University.

Known as “Sky,” Houser first became acquainted with the Indian community in the mid-70s when he was a professor at the University of Nebraska and took his students to a pow wow in South Dakota. He began visiting the Santee Sioux Indian Reservation in Nebraska where he met Anna Lavara James, one of the elders there. She later adopted him as a grandson.

Everyone in the extended family considered him part of the family, according to Ken James, his adopted brother. “He really listened to her. She was willing to give him all the history of our family.” Some of the stories focused on the Santee Dakota people’s exile from Minnesota in the 1860s after several tribal members were executed at the gallows there.

In 1975, he was recruited by the Santee community to help them establish a satellite campus, Northeast Nebraska Indian Satellite Community College, which later became Nebraska Indian Community College.

Houser served as chief executive officer of four tribal colleges including Nebraska Indian Community College, Sisseton Wahpeton Community College, Institute of American Indian Arts and Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College, and worked at three others: Saskatchewan Indian Federated College, Salish Kootenai College’s Spokane campus and Sinte Gleska University.

He left a legacy of articles and books about tribal economic development, tribal college administration, micro-enterprise development and medieval Europe, including several articles for the Tribal College Journal, the quarterly magazine published by the American Indian Higher Education Consortium. He was a member of the TCJ research advisory panel for many years.

Houser was born on July 8, 1943 in Philadelphia, Pa. His parents were Alma “Ruby” Bobbs Houser and Edward Ross Houser. During undergraduate school at the University of Pittsburgh, he lived in the international dorm. “He was always interested in meeting people of different cultures,” said his sister, Esther Houser.

In 1967, he earned a Master of Arts Degree in History at the University of Chicago, and in 1986 he earned his Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

David Gipp, president of United Tribes Technical College and the unofficial historian for the tribal college movement said, “We shall miss him as one who helped shape the curriculum of the tribal college movement. He respected our tribal traditions and participated in a humble way. My colleagues and I wish him good stead and prayer as he moves on to the Ages.”

Lionel Bordeaux, president of Sinte Gleska University said, “He was part of the family at Sinte Gleska and always will be. Now he will provide guidance and courage from the spiritual world and join the rest of our spiritual world that we rely on at Sinte Gleska.”

A memorial in his honor is planned on his birthday, July 8, in Santee, Neb. on the Santee Dakota Nation Reservation. For information, contact Ken James at (605) 997-5016.

The family specified that gifts in his memory could be given to the American Indian College Fund (www.collegefund.org) or write to American Indian College Fund, 8333 Greenwood Blvd., Denver, CO 80221.