Skip to main content

United Tribes Technical College Hires First New President in 37 Years

United Tribes Technical College has a new president, Dr. Leander “Russ” McDonald (Dakota/Arikara), an enrolled citizen of the Spirit Lake Tribe in ND.

United Tribes Technical College has a new president. He is Dr. Leander “Russ” McDonald (Dakota/Arikara), an enrolled citizen of the Spirit Lake Tribe in North Dakota.

McDonald is the former Spirit Lake tribal chairman and was selected October 24 to take over leadership of the intertribal technical college in Bismarck, North Dakota. He succeeds David M. Gipp, who served as the college’s executive director and president for 37 years.

“We were very deliberate in conducting a national search to get the best qualified candidate,” said Tex G. “Red Tipped Arrow” Hall, United Tribes board president. “It came down to five who were qualified with post-doctoral level certification.”

The 51-year-old McDonald is an experienced higher education leader. He is a former vice president of academic affairs at Cankdeska Cikana Community College in Fort Totten, North Dakota. He taught and guest lectured, administered grants, and conducted research at the University of North Dakota, serving in the Sociology Department, School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Center for Rural Health, and the National Resource Center on Native American Aging.

His higher education training began at his tribe’s community college. He earned graduate and post-graduate degrees at the University of North Dakota. His Ph.D. is in Educational Foundations and Research. Much of the published research he was involved with centers on Native healthcare on the Northern Plains, including traditional foods, quality of life, diet and exercise, health risks and disparities, cancer screening, and barriers to health care.

United Tribes News

The new president and members of his family: standing from left, niece Lynelle Whiteman, a UTTC student; sister Ardell Blueshield, a UTTC graduate; McDonald; wife Francine McDonald; and niece Christina Colon, a UTTC counselor. Seated are parents Vina and Tony McDonald. The McDonald children “followed the good example of their father, who had jobs and worked his entire life,” said the new president.

McDonald’s background includes experience in national Native organizations. In particular, his position as Great Plains Area vice president for the National Congress of American Indians is instrumental in budget formulation for Great Plains tribes.

“The future of the college needs a president that is tuned-in to the budget process,” said Hall. “He really stood out in the interview process having that skill as a former chairman.”

Most recently McDonald served for over one year as Spirit Lake chairman, during which he lobbied for child safety legislation, pursued reforms in the organizational structure of tribal government, strengthened the tribe’s human resource policies, and pushed for equity in the tribe’s compensation system.

“I think we’re going to see a hard-working, ethical individual” who brings family and spiritual values to the college, said Hall. “He’s someone who cares for all the students and staff. He’s going to represent the college well in the Bismarck/Mandan community.”

McDonald’s selection by the United Tribes board was unanimous. Involved in the interview, evaluation and selection process was the entire board, made up of elected representatives of the five tribes in North Dakota: Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyaté, Spirit Lake Tribe, Standing Rock Tribe, Three Affiliated Tribes of the Mandan/Hidatsa/Arikara Nation and Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.

The board thanked UTTC Vice President Phil Baird for serving as interim president over the past eight months during the selection process. Baird continues as the college’s Vice President of Academic, Career and Technical Education.

In September, United Tribes marked its 45th year serving the higher education needs of American Indian students and their families.