The Tribal College Journal has just published podcast 7 of Christine Reidhead’s sessions with me about tribal college and university history. This podcast is primarily about Verna Fowler and I founding the College of the Menominee Nation in Northern Wisconsin. The link:
Tag Archives: tribal college movement
I just signed a contract with Tribal College Press (TCP) for the publication of a book of poetry titled, Meditation on the Ceremonies of Beginnings. In 1972 I graduated from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and found a teaching position at an alternative school, Menominee County Community School, which was one of the first seven school of the Indian controlled schools movement in this country. It was through my association with Helen Maynor Scheirbeck, the greatest American Indian leader in Indian education during my lifetime, that I found out about the tribal colleges.
When Dr. Verna Fowler asked me to help her found what became College of the Menominee Nation in 1993, I started writing poems about the tribal college movement and its founding. I have written a substantial number of poems over the decades, celebrating, mourning, living the tribal college dream of creating a new form of higher education driven by American Indian cultures and languages throughout the United States.
Most of the early poems were written during American Indian Higher Education conferences, or later, World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium conferences, in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, or Australia. I usually wrote them on scrap paper or napkins and then promptly gave them to whomever I was with at the time. Luckily for me, Marjane Ambler, then Editor of the Tribal College Journal, prevailed upon person after person to save them and send them to her. Later on, once a handful of the poems appeared in print, I stated saving them myself.
The poems tell a different kind of history about the tribal college and university and World Indigenous controlled institutions of higher education movements in the United States and worldwide. I am grateful that Bradley Shreve and Rachael Marchbanks at TCP unexpectedly offered to publish the book.
This has been quite a year! In the Unsettled Homeland of Dreams, my Washington Island historical novel about the black fisherman community that settled on the island before the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act that led to the Civil War, should be coming out in the near future. Now Meditation on the Ceremonies of Beginnings. I’m really going to have to do some marketing work. I hope some of you might consider buying either one or both works. I’ve certainly worked hard enough on both of them.
When Ethel and I traveled to New Mexico in February, I worked at Navajo Technical Univerity’s (NTU) campus three days a week while Ethel stayed in our small RV at the Ancient Way Cafe near the El Morro National Monument. At NTU Christine Reidhead, who is the head of the baccalaureate program in Business, and April Chischilly, an Assistant Professor and long-term NTU employee, got me to agree to do podcasts about the tribal college movement.
I was totally unprepared even though Christine has, for some time, threatened to write my biography. She refuses to understand that I am not important enough to have a biography written and is absolutely persistent. When she dragged out and set up this array of equipment she had purchased out of a tribal college salary to do the podcast, I was not only shocked, but felt like I should cooperate.
The introduction that Christine did to the series is more than a little exaggerated. I am in no way a legend, and though I was around the TCU movement early in its formation, primarily through my association with Helen Scheirbeck, my claim to fame would not be as a pioneer, or founder of the movement, but as someone who was lucky enough in life to walk with the giants that created what I would consider one of the most significant educational movements of the 20th and early 21st century. I tried to get Christine to change the introduction to the series, but she just laughed at me and said she loved it.
I thought I’d post all of the podcasts here, one at a time. I am hopeful, even though they are off the cuff and a little rambling, they might have some historical value. I am, in the end, grateful to Christine and April for tying me down to a project that I would never have contemplated on my own.
Since I know nothing about podcasts, I should note that the first one seems to have been sped up in some way while the second one is not that way at all. Still, this has been interesting. The link to Christine’s work is below:
Others will follow over the next month or so.
By Thomas Davis
He was a big man in Arizona
We were in Mesa, Arizona during the winter at a meeting
Sponsored by the Kellogg Foundation,
Tribal college Presidents and administrators, students, Board members, and faculty.
The white man in the tailored black suit
Had shown up and was invited up front to speak.
The Foundation wanted the mainstream universities and tribal colleges to work together with a common purpose.
The Chancellor of the University was careful and polite to begin with,
But then, as if he couldn’t quite help himself, he said:
“You know, I really don’t know what you people want.”
He gestured toward the crowd of Indian eyes and faces.
“I mean, the University of Arizona has developed programs
And reached out to the Reservations
Since signing of the treaties.”
The crowd of tribal college presidents and the others there
Didn’t say anything, didn’t move, didn’t clap, but looked interested and polite.
He clearly didn’t understand what Indian people needed.
Note: This is a poem from the tribal college movement. The incident happened a long time ago.
by Thomas Davis
I thought some of the readers of Four Windows Press might enjoy this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9XyqwWR3_d4, which describes the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math work being done in tribal colleges across the United States.
This is obviously not about poetry, art, or photography, but I have worked in American Indian Education from 1972 up to the present time. I helped establish the National Science Foundation’s Tribal College and University’s Program (TCUP), working closely with Carrie Billy, then the Director of President Bill Clinton’s White Initiative of Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), that this video explores. My role was not that important really, but I am proud of the work I did throughout my career in the tribal college movement nevertheless. Carty Monette and Carol Davis, both featured in the video, are not only good friends, but played a major role in helping establish the TCUs nationwide.
What the TCUs are achieving throughout the United States is, at least in my opinion, some of the most important educational work being done in the world today. This video just gives a small glimpse of that work and might introduce to at least some of you the TCUs.
For most of my life I have been interested in why explosions in creative genius occur. Mostly I have been interested in examples like the Renaissance in Italy in the 1400s, the flowering of Greek art during the classical period, the American Renaissance in New England in the mid 1800s, especially around Concord, and smaller explosions such as that which surrounded the founding of Black Mountain College in North Carolina in the mid 1900s. There are other equally important flowerings, if different in flavor and effect, such as the Silicon Valley technology explosion in California or the development of the Indian Institutes of Technology in India in the 1950s. The question is, why do these explosions of creative work occur? They have an enormous impact on human history, thought, inspiration, and even the rise, fall, and mood of nations, but what causes them to happen?
I have been fortunate in my lifetime to have witnessed three explosions of creativity, if not more. I believe I have witnessed genius brewing if not flowering. The most significant of these has been the formation and growing of the tribal college movement, which started with Navajo Community College in 1968 and is still transforming Indian country from Alaska to Michigan to Kansas and Oklahoma today. I have been privileged to work with people like Helen Maynor Scheirbeck, Lionel Bordeaux, Mike Gross, David Gipp, Carty Monette, Carrie Billy, Carol Davis, Verna Fowler, and so many others whose genius managed to help transform hopelessness on the nation’s American Indian Reservations into hope. In a speech given at the American Indian Higher Education Consortium’s Spring conference held in Green Bay, Wisconsin a few years back I described the founders of the tribal college movement as “giants that have walked on Mother Earth,” and I will honor them during all of my life.
But what I have been thinking a lot about lately is two different flowerings. One occurred when I was much younger in Shawano, Wisconsin. The other is the Zuni Mountain poets and the flowering around the Old School Gallery near the El Morro National Monument in New Mexico. Ethel and I lived in Shawano, where I helped found both the Menominee Indian School District and College of the Menominee Nation, longer than we have lived anywhere else. This is conservative country, home of the notorious Posse Comitatus, a place where Joseph R. McCarthy’s portrait still hangs in the court chambers of the Shawano Country courthouse.
Still, when the Mielke Theatre was built in Mielke Park in 1976, an arts movement developed in the rural part of Wisconsin that was as active as any in the entire state. The development of the movement was anything but smooth. Fighting over use of the theatre and funding and other issues, mostly inconsequential in the retrospect of years past, marred the short period of time when I was President of the Shawano County Arts Council and most of the years before that, but the point is that artists literally came out of the deep woods surrounding Shawano and began showcasing their work to the local area, inducing other artists of various kinds: Writers, visual artists, photographers, theatre people, and others, to create an atmosphere of intense, if conflicted, excitement.
When Ethel and I became involved in the Zuni Mountain poets, driving from our home in Continental Divide, NM nearly an hour and a half most Sundays, poetry group was already a strongly going concern. Held at Inscription Rock Trading Post and Coffee Company’s outdoor patio in the summer and its loft in winter, the group was already writing poetry that rivaled anything being written by the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets, a major arts organization that Ethel and I had attended off and on for years. There was a little controversy, in a very minor key, surrounding the Zuni Mountain poets, but Jack Carter North, the unofficial head of the group, allows almost no negative comments about a poet’s work shared during meetings, and the result is astounding. Over the years young and poor poets have joined the group, but over time all of them have improved their work, if they kept coming to the meetings over time, without hearing a negative word during their patio or loft visits. I would be willing to claim that several of the poets writing, including Ethel, have a poetic genius.
My conclusion after seeing these three movements and reading about renaissance after renaissance that has occurred around the world, and visiting places like Taos, New Mexico where the renaissance that included artists like Georgia O’Keefe and the writer D.H. Lawrence, among dozens of others, happened is that renaissance occurs when one, or sometimes two or three, extraordinary presences, an artist or non-artist, creates a spark, often, but not always, with intent. That spark excites others and a renaissance starts building, each artist competing and harmonizing with others, the group building genius out of the desire in individuals to be noticed and to mean something in the world. The spark can have all positive aspects, such as in the Zuni Mountain poets example, or may grow out of competition, or may even grow from one artist trying to get the better of other artists, but the result is the same, creativity becomes a fire, and that fire can change the world.
The trick seems to be, whether in a classroom, a community needing economic development, or in a group of poets or artists, to get the original spark going in one or more individuals, then to build the collaboration/competition by providing an environment where conversation, attention, venture capital, and/or dreams of glory can be obtained. Creative fires start small, then build, irregardless of how rural or small or big a community is, until its light outshines the environs where they were born.