BISMARCK, N.D. - Three tribal college presidents that have each served tribal colleges for at least 30 years were honored at the recent United Tribes Intertribal Summit.
David Gipp, president of United Tribes Technical College; Lionel Bordeaux, president of Sinte Gleska University; and Joe McDonald, president of Salish Kootenai College, were honored. The college presidents attended the Native View College Forum, which was held in conjunction with the intertribal summit.
''It is an honor to work for tribal colleges; it doesn't feel like work,'' McDonald said.
Bordeaux said tribal colleges have come a long way, but there is a long way to go.
''The future of Indian country lies in good hands; we are all together,'' he said.
Gipp was singled out at a reception for his 30 years as president of UTTC.
McDonald has served 30 years as president; and Bordeaux, considered the elder president, will soon reach his 35th year.
''He [Gipp] has taught not just tribal leaders, but others. They came to him on tribal issues,'' said Ron His Horse is Thunder, president of Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
Gipp said he served in other areas at UTTC for four years before taking over the leadership role. He also worked as a tribal planner for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and for the American Indian Higher Education Consortium in 1977.
UTTC is governed by a board of directors made up of the United Tribes college chairmen. Over the many years, turnover has created a nearly rotating board to which Gipp is accountable.
''I stopped counting at 43. Now if I count, it could be 100 or more tribal leaders I've worked for. To be tribal chairman is not an easy job,'' Gipp said.
''We serve the people, we serve the ones who need the help; it's for the people. We do away with differences; it's for our common good.''
UTTC is now located in what was the second Fort Abraham Lincoln, located on the south edge of Bismarck. Through the growth of UTTC, new buildings have filled spaces on the grounds, but the older former fort buildings are still in use today.
''The Indians took over the fort in 1969. We did it peacefully and for a good cause,'' Gipp said.
Jesse Taken Alive, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe council member, said many of the students now attending UTTC were not born when Gipp took over leadership of the college.
''He has a love for his people,'' Taken Alive said.
While the federal government does appropriate funds for each tribal college, the story behind UTTC's funding is different from the others. UTTC has not been on the list of tribal colleges that receive budgetary attention and has been zeroed out of the administration's budget each year. Congressional action is necessary to include UTTC in the funding process.
This year, however, legislation could put UTTC on that permanent list. The future of tribal education is open.
''I want to see plans for the future, for 100 years from now,'' Bordeaux said.
''We can make it better if we come together and talk about goals and talk about better ways to teach the language,'' he said.