Yá’át’ááh, my name is Carrie Billy. I am Tótsóhnii (Big Water Clan), born for Kinyaa’aanii (Towering-House-People Clan). My father’s family lives near Low Mountain on the Navajo Nation. I am honored to have the opportunity to work on behalf of the 37 Tribal Colleges and Universities, which compose the American Indian Higher Education Consortium.
We’ve come a long way since I first began working with tribal colleges in the mid-1980s, and as I take the position of President of AIHEC, I see tremendous opportunity for the Tribal College Movement. Guided by the stories, lessons, and experiences of our grandparents, who were the first generation of leaders of the TCU Movement, we have before us many paths of possibility. Working together, in partnership with old and new friends throughout the country and the world, the various paths we take are all leading to strong sovereign nations through excellence in tribal higher education.
By 1975 the first version of the Tribally Controlled Community College Act was introduced as Senate Bill 1017. The first U.S. Senate hearing, October 1975, established a congressional record and history for future legislation and was signed into law as the first Tribally Controlled Community College Assistance Act, December 1978, by President Jimmy Carter. The key justification for the law was: (1) geographic isolation of the tribes, (2) access to mainstream higher education opportunities lacking for tribal populations, (3) cultural disparities with mainstream or non-Indian society, (4) student success more likely when education offered locally and in community setting, (5) local control in providing higher education to tribal members, and (6) no local tax or state funding available to the schools. The law remains an authorization for the schools under the Department of Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs.
To move forward in the immediate future, AIHEC’s four point strategic plan is our direction and organizational framework. First, TCU Sustainability: our primary task will be to acquaint a new Administration and new Congress with the history, hope, and promise of Tribal Colleges and Universities. Our goal: to secure equitable, full, and forward operational funding for all TCUs. In the area of Performance Accountability, we will launch a series of workshops throughout Indian Country on the ground-breaking AIHEC Indigenous Evaluation Framework and continue our unique and innovative AIHEC AIMS data collection system to help ensure that our programs meet the needs of our communities and that we have the information and data we need to tell our story. We will work to Strengthen Tribal Communities through enactment of The Path, comprehensive legislation to increase TCU capacity to deliver high quality health professions, human resource, community wellness, and economic development programs and activities; and we will launch new Indigenous language revitalization, cultural resource management, and law enforcement initiatives. Finally, to help improve Student Engagement, we will work to strengthen research programs at TCUs, reinvigorate AIHEC’s groundbreaking technology initiative, and secure sustainable student support programs.
As we move forward, we must remember to celebrate our successes, acknowledge the people who worked to get us where we are, and most important, we must share our stories.