Edited by Gerald E. Gipp, Linda Sue Warner, Janine Pease, and James Shanley
Review by Monte Randall
The editors of this book have put together stories from a “who’s who” list of pioneering Native American leaders in education. The stories are grouped in a structure that resembles a traditional model of leadership in that they are cyclical and designed to represent multiple perspectives. A person may move through different roles in life, transitioning from an observer to a storyteller, or from a role model to a wisdom keeper.
The stories tell an incredible journey of Indian education, primarily from the 1960s to the present. Many Native cultures are interconnected with history, language, and values. While this book documents personal journeys of education from the past 60 years, early stories of creation, inherent sovereignty, survival, and resilience exist in these autobiographies.
American Indian Stories of Success documents life lessons from the leaders who started the first tribal colleges and universities (TCUs), the American Indian College Fund, the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, and all those who worked to pass monumental legislation to further the development of Indian education. This book gives insight into the struggles and obstacles that Native education leaders faced in tribal politics, state and local governments, federal agencies, and academic accrediting agencies. Through it all, a resounding theme of determination, respect, and humility guided these leaders to rise up and call on the resiliency of our ancestors to make the hard decisions in order to direct the action needed.
From rural Okemah, Oklahoma, to metropolitan Minneapolis, Minnesota, these leaders met the challenge of making a difference in Indian Country by starting TCUs, serving as tribal and state elected officials, and by being appointed to federal agencies. These leaders never lost sight of the guiding philosophy of Indian education: utilizing Native values and language. Many of the leaders had humble beginnings as first-generation college students who went on to serve as public school teachers or coaches, transitioning into higher education to become TCU presidents. All mentioned the help they received from mentors, elders, and the Native values and ceremonies that kept them focused on teaching the “sacred children.”
This book is a great resource for anyone who is looking for practical lessons on Native American leadership, culture, spirituality, or the history of the tribal college movement. It shows the importance of Indian education and the value of leadership through the lens of those who had the courage to blaze the trail that many of us are on today. In particular, TCUs have great resources available to them today because of the hard work of the many people discussed in this book, and the countless others who have contributed in many other ways.
Monte Randall, M.A. (Muscogee), is the dean of academic affairs at College of the Muscogee Nation.