BY ASHLY HALL
FBCC STUDENT SENATE PUBLIC RELATIONS
Fort Berthold Community College Student Senate attended the 2015 Winter AIHEC meeting in Washington, D.C. to address a range of topics, including education, engagement, innovation, and sustainability of tribal communities. Speakers addressed preserving Native languages and cultures, strengthening tribal governments and communities, nurturing Native children, youth, and families as well as preparing the next generation of successful leaders to model the way.
Words were also shared about other key factors such as building the American Indian STEM workforce, promoting healthy and traditional lifestyles, sustaining tribal lands and environments, inspiring Native creativity and innovation, and sharing stories and accountability to empower our people.
The experience of being in an environment where there was a diversity of Native Americans gave the students a feeling of positivity and hope for the future. Each student that attended had their own story; intriguing, captivating and compelling. It made me reflect in not only my mind, but also deep in my heart and the importance of advocating and making our presence known in Washington DC with the success that is coming from tribal colleges.
It was fascinating for students to interact and learn more about the testimonies that each individual had. Their success fell back on being able to seize opportunities from the tribal colleges they attended. Not only that, it was also intriguing to learn more about the unique heritage that each student had and the connections with where they came from and tribal colleges they attended and to connect with other tribal students and be aware of the differences and similarities was something that helped me personally to broaden my thinking. It was truly a great reminder that we all hold power and strength persevering adversities; that we are all capable of being victors of our battles.
Listening to the honorary speakers also gave me a sense of encouragement; what they shared with us was also empowering. The speakers sent out messages to the students that I will always carry in our heart. Speakers included: Mark Cruz, Legislative Assistant The Honorable Todd Rokita, Leonard Haynes, Director Institutional Service US Dept. of Education, Joe Packer, Exec. Dir. Committee for Ed. Funding, Dr. Charles M. Roessel, Dir. Of the Bureau of Indian Education, Jamienne Studley, Deputy Under Sec. of Ed. U.S Department of Education, Carrie Hessler-Radelet, director of Peace Corps.
Jodi Gillette, White House senior policy advisor for Native American Affairs, spoke to the students. She reminded us that: “In life, sometimes we stumble.” To each student I believe these words hold to be very true with everyone’s own distinctive journey. She followed up with a question about what “activism” meant to the students of each tribal college.
Said Gillette: “What is it that you fight for? As a people, to be unified is essential but are we fighting together? What is the message we want to convey? Where is what we are fighting for taking us? And how is it that we will get there?”
Not only did she ask these questions that stirred motivation inside of every student listening, but also she said, “That along our journey there is nothing to be ashamed of in asking for help. As Native Americans, it has always been a part of our culture to give and share.”
Her words really reflect on the stumbles of tribal student’s lives, but however because of this experience I felt much more confident in my journey. I don’t want the adversities that surface in my life to get the best of me. I feel that being active in always persevering to take the next step forward is crucial for not only my own life but to be someone that can help others in a way that makes them want to keep striving for a better future.
Throughout different challenges in my life I am thankful for the people who have helped me. For that reason it is very important to me to receive my higher education that will get me to what I desire to do to help Indian Country. Being at a tribal college like FBCC really makes me feel like I am doing something good with myself and I am grateful for the opportunities I have here to learn and grow. I love the faculty that I am surrounded with because they make me feel they want the best for me in a way that a loving family would.
Eugenia Kirk and other FBCC Student Senate officers gave their testimonies to why tribal colleges and especially Fort Berthold Community College should be of equality and of importance to all nations and should be considered for the increase in Tribal Students funding and cost.
Thirty-seven tribal college student senate representatives from across the United States provided great testimonies. The students addressed their senators and representative of their state to have them keep in my the support that is needed for all tribal colleges. They were also asked to consider and back the funding increase per tribal student and what the increase can do and how it can change the lives of tribal students everywhere.
It was an action packed visit. Each Senator and Representative of each office of all offices where given a packet that outlines the concerns and the effects of budget cuts for Tribal Colleges. Here are some TCU president who also testified:
TCU President Dr. Twyla Baker-Demaray, Ph.D, Fort Berthold Community College President; Cynthia Lindquist, Ph.D. Cankdeska Cikana Community College President; Dr. Laurel Vermillion, Sitting Bull College; President, Dr. Leander “Russ” McDonald, UTTC President, and Dr. Jim Davis, Turtle Mountain Community College spoke on behalf their tribal college and shared the great works that are being brought forth to higher education by tribal colleges and the contributions that it has had on tribal education in Indian Country. They also expressed the concerns of what any cuts across the board may have on TCU’s (Tribal Colleges and Universities) and on TCU Students.
The Fort Berthold Community Students wrapped their week on Capitol Hill with a complete success in lobbying for equality and the importance of Tribal Colleges and Universities, and Higher Education.