by Aisha Bowen
Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) and Native-American Serving, Nontribal Institutions (NASNTIs) have historically served as spaces dedicated to increasing educational opportunities for students of Native American descent. In light of the Dakota Access pipeline protests recently highlighted in media (though similar protests have been taking place long before now), it is important to recognize how these institutions are training Native American students to become both leaders and activists in their communities. This week’s Monday Morning MSI Line Up recognizes 5 social activists who attended a TCU or NASNTI.
1) Reno Charette—Chief Dull Knife College
Reno Charette currently serves as the Montana State University- Billings Director of the American Indian Outreach Office. Charette is a member of the Ties-In-Bundle clan of the Crow Nation and a descendent of the Pembina band of Turtle Mountain Chippewa. She was raised on the Northern Cheyenne reservation and attended Chief Dull Knife College during the summer of 1989 to study Northern Cheyenne language under Bill Tall Bull (leader of one of Cheyenne’s strongest warrior societies). Currently, she teaches Native American Studies courses and works on cultural projects that help American Indian students feel comfortable and succeed while attending college at MSUB.
2) Gordon Belcourt—Blackfeet Community College
Gordon Belcourt is known as one of the Rocky Mountain West’s most instrumental Native American leaders. Belcourt was the Executive Director of the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council from 1998 until his death in 2013. His work helped built the organization into a powerful regional voice on Native issues, especially public health. Belcourt’s staff at the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council described him as a mentor who led by example. They said late in life he put much of his focus into water rights issues and trying to lower rates of alcoholism and suicide on reservations. In addition to his work through this organization, he also served as president of the TCU, Blackfeet Community College during his professional tenure.
3) Carolyn Burgess Savage—Haskell Indian Nations University
Carolyn Burgess Savage is a Member of the Chitimacha Nation (a small federally recognized tribe on the Gulf Coast in small town of Charenton) whose activism work includes preserving the native languages of her nation. Savage was a student Haskell Indian Nations University (a TCU), where she studied her native language extensively. Savage relocated back to Cherenton as an adult and began her work teaching Chitimacha classes at a local cultural center. While Savage believes that one person cannot save a language, her work ignited a larger movement for language preservation programs.
4. E.J.R. David—University of Alaska-Anchorage
Psychologist E.J.R. David is famously known for his work regarding “the psychology of marginalized groups” with specific focuses on rural, cultural, and indigenous frameworks. David is a graduate of University of Alaska-Anchorage (a NASNTI) and currently serves an associate professor of Psychology at the university. As a Filipino-American community activist, David’s uses his proud Filipino heritage to infuse activism into his academic work. His work focuses on “improving the mental and physical well being of people of color.”
5. Charles W. Blackwell—East Central State College
Charles Blackwell, member of the Chickasaw Nation, was known as a “man of vision.” Blackwell served as the Chickasaw Nation Ambassador to the United States and the first American Indian Ambassador. As ambassador, Blackwell advocated heavily for Native education and Tribal economic development. Blackwell was a graduate of East Central State College (a NASNTI) in Ada, Oklahoma. Interestingly, Blackwell attended University of Mexico, a Hispanic Serving Intuition (HSI) to complete his law degree. As an advocate for Native education, he served in major leadership roles at the American Indian Law Center. Blackwell is said to be responsible for sending over 50 Native American students to law school.