Tribal Colleges Form Partnership

Two tribal colleges have signed a memorandum of understanding—it will allow San Carlos Apache College to operate as a Tohono O’odham Community College branch campus until San Carlos can operate on its own.

At the base of the Baboquivari Mountain Range, Native people of two tribal nations witnessed a momentous signing ceremony on December 9, 2016 between two tribal colleges. The San Carlos Apache College, a newly forming tribal college in Arizona, and Tohono O’odham Community College signed an historic agreement to form a partnership.

This Agreement will allow San Carlos Apache College to operate as a Tohono O’odham Community College branch campus in San Carlos, Arizona, and utilize TOCC’s accreditation so students can earn certification, associate degrees, and transfer credits that will be accepted by other institutions of higher learning and future employers. Under the technical guidance of TOCC, San Carlos Apache College’s goal is to become an independent fully accredited tribal college within three to five years.

“It is an honor to be at this historic day, a day when two Nations come together and begin the process of Nation building in the specific area of higher education,” said San Carlos Apache Chairman Terry Rambler. “It is our duty as leaders to make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of our children.”

TOCC hosted the ceremony, and a special impromptu Tohono O’odham traditional song was offered by a member as a blessing.


TOCC’s Board of Trustees presented a gift to the SCAC Board of Regents—a pottery, referred to as a Friendship pot, representing men and women dancing hand-in-hand in a round dance.

SCAC Board Chair Martha Interpreter-Baylish said, “Since the spring of 2015, the Board of Regents has worked tirelessly on the dream of developing the San Carlos Apache College into an accredited post-secondary educational facility. With the initiation of the San Carlos Apache College and Tohono O’odham Community College Agreement, we are one step closer to this dream.”

Tribal colleges sign agreement

Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Edward Manual presented a gift to San Carlos Tribal Chairman Terry Rambler on behalf of the TOCC Board of Trustees.

Discussions between the two colleges initiated six months ago. Under the agreement, SCAC will receive guidance from TOCC so it can eventually operate as a stand-alone college. SCAC will bear its own operational costs including hiring its own college administrators, faculty and staff.

SCAC students will be counted as TOCC students and gain access to accredited classes. SCAC plans to start offering classes in the fall semester 2017.

“This partnership will help SCAC achieve its dream and will strengthen TOCC at the same time,” said Paul Robertson, TOCC President. “In a few short months, we have developed an effective working relationship, and have learned a good deal from each other. There is strength in working together. Both SCAC and TOCC share a common vision of providing students with an excellent education that includes native language, culture, and tradition.”

SCAC is a visionary concept rooted in the Gozhǫ̨́ǫ̨́ (an Apache word translating to spirituality and balance) values and traditional culture of a proud People known as the N’nee or Apache People of the San Carlos Apache Tribe.

“On behalf of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, we thank the Tohono O’odham Nation and the Tohono O’odham Community College for having faith in us and their willingness to share their accreditation to help us someday obtain our own accreditation,” concluded Chairman Rambler.

Tribal colleges sign agreement

An closer look at the Tohono O’odham pottery.

A 2011 study by the San Carlos tribe’s planning department identified education and preservation of the N’nee (Apache) language/culture as top priorities.

In response, the San Carlos Apache Tribal Council formed a taskforce to analyze the study and formulate a plan to address the recommendations.

With the taskforce’s findings, San Carlos Apache College was incorporated by the Tribal Council in August 2014 as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Thereafter, seven tribal members were appointed as Board of Regents with delegated authority over SCAC.

Through a Memorandum of Understanding between the San Carlos Apache Tribe and Arizona State University, the SCAC board of regents continues to collaborate with two ASU Advisors on college operations, academia and promoting healthy lifestyles. Dr. Maria Hesse, Vice Provost for Academic Partnerships and Jacob Moore, Assistant Vice President of Tribal Relations offer technical assistance and support.

“ASU is honored to play a role in the creation of SCAC,” Dr. Hesse stated on the partnership.

“The support of the Tohono O’odham Nation’s leadership and TOCC Board of Regents demonstrates the generosity of one tribal nation to help strengthen another through their own experience and expertise,” said Moore as he reflected on the event. “The signing ceremony was truly a historic day.”

Gail K. Pechuli is a member of the Board of Regents at San Carlos Apache College.

This story was originally published January 16, 2017.