By David Melmer -- Today staff
BISMARCK, N.D. - The North Dakota Legislature has agreed to compensate tribal colleges for non-beneficiary students.
Tribal college presidents worked diligently to convince the Legislature and governor that the legislation was necessary to support the tribal colleges.
Tribal colleges receive federal funding for American Indian students, which is placed in the general fund to offset costs for services. There is no funding for non-beneficiary students, who are not tribal members and do not meet the one-fourth blood requirement for American Indian designation.
Senate Bill 2404 allocates $700,000 for the states tribal colleges for grant-assistance payments beginning July 1 and ending June 30, 2009.
''The state board of higher education shall make grants to tribally-controlled community colleges to defray the costs of education associated with enrollment of non-beneficiary students,'' the bill states.
The bill identifies non-beneficiary students as those who are less than one-quarter quantum American Indian blood.
Gov. John Hoeven was supportive of the bill, thereby eliminating any speculation about a veto.
''We've entered a new era with the state of North Dakota. The state is truly beginning to work with the tribally controlled institutions of postsecondary education,'' said David Gipp, president of United Tribes Technical College.
''This is a relationship that will have an impact on local communities where tribal colleges are located, and I believe it's a model relationship for other states with Indian tribes and tribal colleges,'' Gipp said.
Montana has funded similar tribal college assistance with $1 million. The state of South Dakota defeated a parallel bill to North Dakota's in committee that would have funded the tribal college with $500,000.
North Dakota tribal college presidents have worked on this legislative action for a few years. The work that the presidents and others accomplished may have set the tone for the passage of more legislation favorable to the state's five tribes. Positive work with lobbying and communication with legislators was the key to the passage of the education bill and others that were passed in the Legislature this year.
Legislative watchers for the tribes were surprised when the education funding bill was introduced by a Republican lawmaker from Fargo, a district that has neither a tribal college nor a reservation.
Rep. Jim Kasper from Fargo introduced the bill in the North Dakota House, along with Rep. Dawn Charging of Garrison. James Davis, president of Turtle Mountain Community College and of the North Dakota Association of Tribal Colleges, was instrumental in convincing Kasper about the necessity of the funding.
According to Davis' son, Davis worked so hard on this bill that the day before the bill was to have a final vote, he suffered a heart attack. Davis is recovering at home.
A special singing ceremony will be held as soon as Davis is able to attend.
Along with Davis, all tribal college presidents put in a large number of hours to gain passage of this bill.
The funding for the colleges will come from a separate allocation of the state share of collections from tax on oil production on the Fort Berthold Reservation. A separate bill passed by the state would create a sharing of tax revenues from the oil production on the western North Dakota reservation.