Hau Mitakuyepi. Chantewasteya napechiyuzapi ksto. Floris White Bull emaciyapi. Akicita Hanska el wathi. Inyan Woslal Han ematanhan. Mnikhówozu Lakhota na Cochiti Pueblo winyan hemacha. This past February, I took part in the AIHEC Capitol Hill visits in Washington, DC, along with three other beautiful minds from Sitting Bull College. This was one of the most valuable experiences of my college career. It gave me insight into how the political process factors into our tribal colleges. Being part of this was such an honor, and I am beyond thankful for the opportunity.
Our college students had double duty to meet with members of Congress from both North and South Dakota. We met with Senators John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Senators John Thune and Mike Rounds of South Dakota, Representative Kristi Noem of South Dakota, and an aide for Representative Kevin Cramer of North Dakota. Our priorities as unified tribal colleges and universities were to address funding inequities and request to be fully funded. We also requested that our TCUs not be mandated to offer student loans, and that treaties and tribal sovereignty be honored.
Personally, requesting that our TCU students not be mandated to take out student loans hit home pretty hard. My father was a graduate of Sitting Bull College when it was Standing Rock Community College. He went on to graduate from the University of North Dakota. Because of his education, he brought home to the reservation many opportunities. He opened a telecom, a propane business, and was a management specialist for the tribe for many years. He was a valuable asset to his people and he remains my hero to this day. Sadly, the day he passed away he was still paying on his student loans. After graduating, even though he was unemployed a few months, he kept up with his loan payments, never being able to crawl out from under them. When I think about the day I leave my beloved tribal college, I have such relief that I will not be leaving with a debt, only a valuable degree. We have such an awesome staff that helps with our needs and a scholarship coordinator, Dakota Kidder, who pushes us to fill out applications for scholarships and grants.
Along with the experience of advocating, I found the part of sharing our stories as students to be the most profound. What I thought was something to hide about my experience—fighting to become educated—happened to be my strength. I identified with so many other stories that I heard from other students. So many of us fight to be in class today; despite what hardships we are facing, we choose to be here. That is our strength in tribal colleges. If we can go through what we do daily, there’s nothing we cannot accomplish.