Bacone College back from the brink of closure by returning to its Indian Country roots
Lisa J. Ellwood
Less than a year ago, the nation’s oldest Native American university was slated for closure. Walking on the campus today makes this seem like a distant memory. Along with the sale of off-campus properties which has enabled the school to pay off debts, there is a renewed and increased Native presence at Bacone College.
Founded in 1880, Bacone has stood as a legacy to generations of Indigenous families and tribes throughout the United States. The institution’s struggles over the past two decades are primarily due to non-Native leadership attempts to re-imagine the university in the vein of many small, private liberal arts universities, a press release suggests. Growth was envisioned mostly in terms unrelated to Indian Country—and the result of these decisions adversely impacted the university.
Bacone College found itself in a position to return the school to its roots as a place of higher education run by Native people and focused on Indian Country with the retirement of its former president and the exodus of many former staff members, coaches, faculty, and students in the summer of 2018 according to a press release. The installation of a Native president and hiring Native educators in all areas of the university has resulted in many Indigenous students returning to classes this Spring and others making commitments to attend in the Fall of 2019. The reinstatement of Bacone’s historic American Indian Art program and the corresponding support of many formerly disassociated Native alumni who are now contributing their expertise and financial donations have been integral to transforming the university’s challenges into opportunity.
The highly visible presence of current and incoming Native students has been very significant within Bacone’s athletic programs. The change from the predominantly non-Native coaching staff to one comprised almost completely of Natives is a contributing factor, university officials indicated in a press release.
Spring athletic signings included:
- Former Riverside Indian School standout and junior college transfer Rahshauna Macon (Cheyenne & Arapaho) to the women’s basketball program,
- Southwestern College baseball transfer Dawson Orso (MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians).
- Former McLoud High School basketball player and junior college transfer Isiah Nanaeto (Kickapoo).
- Northeastern State University transfer Mariah Camp (Chickasaw) to the cross country & track programs.
Other signings are spread across the university’s baseball, basketball, cross country, soccer, softball, track, and volleyball teams. The Fall 2019 recruiting class already has over thirty Native commitments. Recent signings include Allen High School two-sport athlete Sunzie Harrison (Chickasaw/Choctaw) and women’s basketball players Tayshia Twitty (Choctaw) and Kayleigh Edge (Caddo) from Norman High School and Gracemont High School respectively.
Native student numbers continue to grow with eight more athletics signings over the next month. Final enrollment for Fall 2019 is expected to be more than 50 percent of all attending students.
The story and legacy of Bacone College continues, and the future looks bright.
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