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Kalle Benallie

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Bureau of Indian Education Director Tony Dearman visited the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute on Tuesday to commemorate the school’s 50th anniversary.

The school opened in 1971. During its decades of operation, over 36,000 Indigenous students have attended SIPI and over 2,700 degrees have been awarded, representing 260 tribes.

The school offers a variety of post-secondary training programs from vision care technology to early childhood education to accounting. 

“SIPI impacts Indian Country by educating Native Americans from across the United States who then can return to their communities and fulfill the education and workforce needs of their tribal nations,” Dearman, Cherokee, said.

The Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute is one of two postsecondary institutions operated by the Bureau of Indian Education. The Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas is the other.

Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, said she has visited SIPI many times. One of which is when she helped her cousin move in the year the school opened.

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“As a leader in Indian education SIPI has become an integral place for Indigenous students to receive culturally competent education,” she said. “It’s an institution that represents the fight and resistance to the long standing assimilation efforts our people have faced in this country since the dawn of colonization.”

Haaland’s visit also occurred on the same day as National Voter Registration Day. It was announced in March that the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute will serve as a voter registration agency. The school will educate students and give access to voter registration and election information.

“This may seem like a small step but this is one way we can honor those who fought hard for the rights that we have today,” Haaland said. Participatory democracy is part of who we are as people. Collaboration, consensus and common good are built into our cultures and our traditions.”

Haaland emphasized the importance voting has on selecting leadership that understands Indigenous communities and sovereignty.

“No effort is too small,” she said. “Even our most basic of actions like voting make all the difference in honoring our ancestors and supporting our communities.” 

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