Native News Network Staff in Native Currents. Discussion »
WASHINGTON With federal budget cuts looming in early February, Northwest Indian College students headed to the nation's capital to ask lawmakers face to face to support their education, a tribal education.
Tribal College Students discussed how the sequestration
would effect their small campuses.
Students were in Washington for the American Indian Higher Education Consortium winter student congress meeting, during which "AIHEC Capitol Hill Visits 2013" also took place.
The Capitol Hill visits gave students the opportunity to sit down with and tell their stories to lawmakers and their representatives, and to ask for continued support for tribal higher education.
Northwest Indian College student Aissa Yazzie, Navajo, said the idea of speaking with these lawmakers was more than a little intimidating.
“I was so nervous that another student and I stayed up most of the night before practicing our speeches,”
“We rewrote them about 10 times.”
When it actually came to sharing her story, though, Yazzie said her words came naturally. She didn't even end up using her prepared speech.
The Northwest Indian College representatives, along with all of the AIHEC members who participated, were there to tell their stories and the stories of their colleges. They were there to ask these lawmakers not only to maintain funding for tribal higher education, but to increase it.
Yazzie said she was surprised to learn just how limited funding is for tribal colleges and universities. Victoria Retasket, Northwest Indian College's Dean of Student Life, was also surprised by this.
“During this process, I learned how grossly underfunded tribal colleges are compared to other minority-serving institutions,”
Yazzie said she felt that discussions with lawmakers went really well and that those from Washington were especially supportive of tribal higher education.
“Many said that stories of the tribal students were highlights of their years, or at least their months,”
Yazzie shared with them how important her tribal college experience is and has been for her.
Yazzie went to high school in Bellingham in a class with only one other Native student, but she didn't realize how much she wanted to be around other Native students until she spent more time at Northwest Indian College. Only when she was in a place that understood her identity did she realize how much racism abounded at her high school, and how normalized it was.
Yazzie said tribal higher education has helped her gain a greater understanding of her own culture and that she knows it will enable her to give back to her community.
“Tribal colleges provide us with an opportunity to express our identity through education,”
“I feel that Native students can get a lot more out of a tribal college experience than they could at a mainstream institution. Taking in your own cultural beliefs allows you to use your own connections to your people to educate yourself.”
Students spoke with the following members of congress, or representatives of the members: Representative Suzan Delbene, D - Washington - 1, Representative Raul Labrador, R - Idaho - 1, Office of Senator Mike Crapo, R - Idaho, Office of Representative David Reichert, R - Washington - 8, Office of Senator Maria Cantwell, D - Washington; Office of Representative Adam Smith, D - Washington - 9, Representative Mike Simpson, R - Idaho - 2, Office of Senator James Risch, R - Idaho, Office of Senator Patty Murray, D - Washington, and Representative Derek Kilmer, D - Washington - 6.
Retasket said there were a few bottom line requests in the discussions that included proposed amendments to current bills that affect tribal higher education institutions, via funding and governmental relationships.
Sequestration was also mentioned several times as a possible scenario, Retasket said.
“We were sure to share with the lawmakers the effect it would have on our small campuses,”
“Because tribal colleges are so underfunded already, it seems illogical to continue to reduce costs in our arena. We were sensitive to the fact that it is a possibility, and assured our lawmakers that not cutting costs in higher education will be an investment in the long run.”
Retasket and Yazzie, Northwest Indian College main campus student and Miss AIHEC 2012-2013, were joined in DC by Forrest Callaghan, Tulalip site student and AIHEC Mountain Pacific Regional Representative, Jenny Hawker, Nez Perce site student, Kristin Kinley, Northwest Indian College Board of Trustees Chair, and Dave Oreiro Northwest Indian College Vice President of Campus Development.
posted March 5, 2013 8:30 am est