WASHINGTON ? President Bush threw his personal weight behind the tribal college movement on July 3, issuing an Executive Order of support in a ceremony in the Oval Office of the White House. He also appointed a new 14-member Board of Advisers on Tribal Colleges and Universities.
The Executive Order directs, "It is the policy of the federal government that this Nation's commitment to educational excellence and opportunity must extend as well to the Tribal Colleges and Universities that serve Indian tribes and Alaska Native entities."
The action replaces a similar Executive Order from the Clinton Administration, which the White House had left in place until the ceremony. By his action, Bush has now made the tribal college movement an integral part of his "No Child Left Behind" initiative.
"Witnessing President Bush signing the Executive Order confirmed this Administration's support of our nation's Tribal Colleges and Universities, the federally-recognized tribes they represent, and the students and communities they serve," said Dr. Gerald E. Gipp, member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (Hunkpapa Lakota), immediately following the ceremony. Gipp is executive director of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC), which lobbied for the new White House initiative.
"The Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) presidents and AIHEC were instrumental in facilitating the formation of the White House Initiative on tribal colleges," Gipp continued.
The Executive Order states that TCUs "fulfill a vital role: in maintaining and preserving irreplaceable languages and cultural traditions; in offering a high-quality college education to younger students; and in providing job training and other career-building programs to adults and senior citizens. Tribal colleges provide crucial services in communities that continue to suffer high rates of unemployment and the resulting social and economic distress."
In addition, the Executive Order directs, "The President's Board of Advisors on Tribal Colleges and Universities (the "Board") and the White House Initiative on Tribal Colleges and Universities (WHITCU) established by this order shall ensure that this national policy regarding tribal colleges is carried out with direct accountability at the highest levels of the Federal Government."
Four of the appointees to the board are current tribal college presidents and another is the founder and past president of a tribal college. While appointed today, the members of the Advisory Board will be sworn in at a later date.
The President chose Ron McNeil, J.D. of Fort Yates, N.D. to serve as Chairman of the Board. McNeil is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (Hunkpapa Lakota) and President of Sitting Bull College.