The American Indian College Fund honored scholarship recipients at its 2015-2016 student of the year reception at the American Indian Higher Education Consortium Student Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The program, sponsored by the Adolph Coors Foundation, awarded each honoree a $1,000 scholarship. The program also honors a faculty or staff member at a tribal college or university for leadership and for making a positive and lasting impact on the tribal college movement. Dr. David Yarlott Jr., president of Little Big Horn College, was named the honoree for 2016.
Yarlott is from Crow Agency. His tribal college career began unexpectedly with a visit to Little Big Horn College to see the changes being made in the buildings on the campus. At the time, he was a graduate student at Montana State University working on his doctorate degree. While he was there, the academic dean mentioned to him that the business instructor was leaving, and that the school wanted to fill the vacancy. Yarlott mentioned the opportunity to his academic advisor while they were playing a game of basketball. “My advisor asked me, ‘Well, isn’t that what you want to do, to return and help your people?’” Yarlott recalls. His advisor suggested that he try the position for a year, and if he didn’t like it, he could do something else. He taught for a little over a year before applying for the position of academic dean when that opened. Then, in 2002, he was selected to be president of the college.
Yet Yarlott wasn’t always sure that being a tribal college president was his path. When the Little Big Horn College board of trustees initially asked him to take the position, he refused. They hired an acting interim president for 18 months instead. “Many people asked me to apply, but I refused. In the summers I worked for the Crow tribe developing natural resources. On a Sunday morning that summer I was eating breakfast when some students knocked on my door. They pleaded with me to take the position. I wouldn’t take the position when anyone else asked me, but when the students asked me, I couldn’t refuse,” Yarlott remembers.
During Yarlott’s tenure, the campus has undergone a major transformation that includes a state-of-the-art library, administration building, and health and wellness center, all incorporating green technology so that the school is “kinder to the earth.” Yarlott’s knowledge of land grant program strategies was an example for the entire tribal college movement system.
Yarlott’s lifelong love of sports played a significant role in both his life and the success of tribal college sports. He says the act of working on a team taught him humility. He was the Little Big Horn College activities director in basketball, which lead to being named to the role as a founding leader of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium Athletic Commission, where he worked to drive the growth of sports in the tribal colleges. His hard work and dedication to intertribal sports led to his nomination for the advisory board of the World Indigenous Games.
In the fall of 2015, Yarlott traveled to Brazil with the first U.S. delegation of tribal college students to participate in the first-ever World Indigenous Games, an experience he says they will not soon forget. The students enjoyed the opportunity to immerse themselves in learning about Indigenous peoples from all over the world. Yarlott says the electricity in the air from the excitement was palpable, and “I told the students that now they are part of history. There will never be another first.”
Alongside Yarlott, the College Fund also recognized the following students who were named 2015-2016 students of the year by their tribal colleges and the American Indian College Fund: Kaye Brown of Aaniih Nakoda College, Janelle Clement of Bay Mills Community College, Terrance LaFromboise of Blackfeet Community College, Tia Fox of Cankdeska Cikana Community College, Troy Bearcomesout of Chief Dull Knife College, Felisha Adams of Diné College, Warren Mountain of Fond Du Lac Tribal and Community College, Elise Akers of Fort Peck Community College, Cherica Eckiwaudah of Haskell Indian Nations University, Ron Martinez of the Institute of American Indian Arts, Jillian Felder of Ilisagvik College, Jolene DeCota of Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College, Shannel Reynolds of Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College, Michelle Marion of Leech Lake Tribal College, Joire Chavez of Little Big Horn College, Alexandra Cleveland of Little Priest Tribal College, Sally Hill of College of Menominee Nation, Zelma Wind of College of the Muscogee Nation, Christina Coffman of Nebraska Indian Community College, Jayvion Chee of Navajo Technical University, Tammy Hammer of Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College, David Miramontez of Northwest Indian College, Tada Vargas of Oglala Lakota College, Rachel Bailey of Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College, Natasha LaRose of Salish Kootenai College, Maegan Spotted Elk of Sinte Gleska University, Samuel Smith of Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute, Jeremy Red Eagle of Sisseton Wahpeton College, Breanne Luger of Sitting Bull College, Jade Yazzie of Stone Child Community College, Mary Alice Lopez of Tohono O’odham Community College, AnnMarie DeCoteau of Turtle Mountain Community College, Joshua Chavez of United Tribes Technical College, and Kimberly Bjerk of White Earth Tribal and Community College.