As the nation’s oldest tribally controlled colleges and universities prepare to celebrate their fiftieth anniversaries, a new book recalls the challenges faced by those who founded some of the first colleges located on reservations in the 1960s and 1970s. Capturing Education: Envisioning and Building the First Tribal Colleges, written by Paul Boyer and published by Salish Kootenai College Press, documents how early leaders faced opponents who believed Indians did not need a college education or were incapable of running their own institutions.
Boyer is founding editor of the Tribal College Journal and author of numerous books and policy reports about the tribal college movement. Capturing Education is based on extended interviews with more than a dozen long-serving presidents, including those who helped found colleges serving the Navajo, Rosebud, Flathead, Crow, Fort Peck, and Turtle Mountain reservations. It is the first project to systematically record and disseminate oral histories told by the movement’s early leaders.
Stories told by founders emphasize the colleges’ humble beginnings. “Most were, at first, small and unpromising institutions, “ Boyer writes. “Classes were taught in church basements, trailers, rented storefronts, surplus building and—when necessary—in bars and under trees.” Founders were young—many were still in their twenties—and none had administrative experience. But all were guided by a potent mixture of idealism, anger, and faith in the power of education.
The book explores how these presidents overcome opposition, inexperience, and limited resources to build stable, accredited and respected institutions of higher learning. As part of this story, Capturing Education acknowledges the early role played by the National Science Foundation, which as one of the first agencies to support the colleges. An early grant made to Turtle Mountain Community College before it was even accredited funded the construction of the institution’s first science lab and supported the salary of two instructors. “It is hard to imagine a grant that was more efficiently and profitably used,” Boyer writes.
Capturing Education: Envisioning and Building the First Tribal Colleges (128 pages) is published by Salish Kootenai College Press. It sells for $12.95 paperback and $22.95 hardback. It is available by mail prepaid from SKC Press, PO Box 70, Pablo, MT 59855 (include $2.00 shipping). It is also available through online booksellers, including Amazon.com.