VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - When United Tribes Technical College was founded in 1969, it was the first intertribally owned vocational school in the nation. In 2009, UTTC turns 40.
The institution offers programs that focus on practical training for the job market. All students are required to pursue a general education program, with a strong emphasis on tribal culture, while receiving preparation and training in a chosen curriculum. At present, 17 Associate of Applied Science degree programs are offered along with 11 certificate degree programs.
In cooperation with Sinte Gleska University, the college conferred its first bachelor;s degrees - in elementary education - in May 2005. UTTC became the first tribal college in the nation in 2003 to receive accreditation to grant online degrees.
The original sites of the UTTC buildings hold significant historical importance. They were constructed for the U.S. Army at Fort Lincoln, which served as an internment facility for civilian Americans of German and Japanese descent during World War II.
The fort then served as the planning site for the Garrison Dam project, which caused flooding that displaced the majority of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Sahnish peoples. Today, the UTTC teaches those tribes' members, and others, in the same buildings that led to the tribe's displacement.
On July 1, 1969, the United Tribes Employment Training Center opened its doors to its first class of students. In 1977, David M. Gipp, Standing Rock Sioux, was hired as the executive director/president of the now-named UTTC and has been in that position ever since.
His enthusiasm for the college shows. ''We are going to have approximately 550 adults in about three weeks - our only problem is that we don't have enough room.''
In a speech to tribal and professional colleagues at the Jan. 9, 2007, Tribal Leaders Forum, Gipp highlighted the need for Native people's education. ''Culturally appropriate higher education for Indian people is deserving of the support not only of Congress and the executive branch of the U.S. government, but also of our own tribal governments.
''Indian students are enrolling in and graduating from tribal colleges, obtaining four year degrees and going on to receive graduate degrees in record numbers at many institutions of higher education.''
He described what the college has learned in its nearly 40 years of educating Native people: ''An investment in higher education pays big dividends, not just to the student, but also to our entire nation.''
A student who enrolls and graduates from UTTC earns 20 times the amount invested by the federal government in that student's education during their lifetime. Graduates are also returning in record numbers to their tribal nations to assist in developing tribal economies and improving the lives of their people.
A 2000 Census report showed that only 11.5 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives hold a bachelor's degree, compared to the national average of 24.4. This is not something that Gipp takes lightly.
''Throughout the existence of the United States, many Indian treaties made it plain that education was a key promise made to our ancestors. Higher education is a fundamental obligation of our federal government to American Indians and Alaska Natives, rooted in our treaties and statutes.
''Providing higher education, and in fact, education in general, fulfills the moral and legal obligation of the United States to assist its indigenous population to recover from centuries of warfare and destruction, the failed policies of previous centuries.''
In the midst of UTTC's success, he is still working to receive more funding. He addressed this matter at the forum as well. ''At present, our tribal colleges receive less than half the amount per student received by other public community colleges of similar size and scope.
''Tribal colleges are mostly dependent on the federal government for student support, as the students served come from the poorest, most under- and unemployed populations in the United States. Despite this, the base BIA funding for UTTC was again cut out of the president's proposed BIA budget for fiscal year 2007.''
In the midst of budget cuts, Gipp does what is necessary to appeal to the interests of his students. UTTC also provides much-needed assistance to its students, such as day care and a grade school for dependents.
He feels strongly about the positive influences left by UTTC. ''Despite any obstacles or barriers, we can only become stronger. That's what tribal colleges are about.''
For more information on UTTC, visit www.uttc.edu or call (701) 255-3285.