Indigenous people all over the world have faced similar historical traumas due to colonization. It is impossible, for example, to read the history of the New Zealand Maoris and not see a parallel to Native tribes in the United States and Canada. Newer tribal colleges may not be familiar with the historical, international interests and relationships that the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) has maintained since its inception. One of the six original AIHEC members was D-Q University, which began as a coordinated effort between Native California tribes and Mexican Americans who embraced their Native ancestry. D-Q University brought an international concern for Indigenous groups all over the world to the AIHEC table. Their long-term president was a Mexican American Native man named Carlos Cordero.
In 1986, after returning to tribal colleges from a five-year absence, I was asked to travel to Regina, Saskatchewan in Canada to do a membership review of the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College (SIFC). The president of SIFC at that time was a Cree named Del Anaquod who had been educated in the United States. SIFC was accepted as a member and in 1988 hosted the annual AIHEC conference. The college president at that time was Oliver Brass, who died a few years later in a tragic accident. Soon after SIFC became a member, Red Crow Community College (a Blackfeet college) in Alberta, Canada, became a member of AIHEC. Red Crow’s president at the time was Marie Smallface Marule.
These colleges represented tribal groups immediately across the Canadian border that were actually related by blood and kinship to American tribes. Later, Tohono O’odham Community College in southern Arizona joined AIHEC; the O’odham have tribal members who live across the southern border in Mexico. In the early 1990s, the AIHEC summer meeting was held at Rosarito Beach in Baja California, in an effort to continue AIHEC discussions on international relationships.
In 1996, AIHEC became part of a large effort funded by the Kellogg Foundation which enabled tribal college leaders to meet Hawaiian Natives and New Zealand Maoris who were involved in forming their own colleges. Val Johnson, a Chippewa from Michigan, was the Kellogg program officer who spearheaded the effort.
These developments led to an AIHEC delegation travelling to New Zealand in 2002. After three weeks, AIHEC, Alaskan Natives, Hawaiians, and Maoris formed the World Indigenous Higher Education Consortium (WINHEC). The original co-chairs were Dr. Lionel Bordeaux and Dr. Rongo Wetere. After two years, Dr. Turoa Royal and I succeeded as co-chairs. WINHEC established a constitution and membership criteria to help Native colleges all over the world establish their own higher education standards and define intellectual property. Some of the major contributors to these efforts have been Bordeaux, Wetere, Royal, Janine Pease, Trevor Moeke, Carrie Billy, Linda Sue Warner, Gerry Gipp, Ray Barnhardt, VerlieAnn Malina-Wright, Peter Hanohano, Tom Davis, and Ron His Horse Is Thunder. There have been countless others involved and a debt of gratitude is owed to them all.
Despite a long history, American tribal colleges have had a somewhat sporadic interest in international Indigenous education. Although there is widespread recognition of the similarities in history and circumstances for Indigenous peoples in other countries, AIHEC members have been restricted by two factors. First, the continual underfunding of American tribal colleges has severely limited participation in global efforts. International travel is expensive and low on the priority list when a college is straining to hire a janitor.
Secondly, the immediate need to focus on American politics and the governmental programs that support the colleges has had to take precedence. Although this is a negative parochial view, it has been the reality. The efforts that have been maintained so far have often come with assistance from foundations such as Kellogg. It is essential to maintain the solidarity of our Indigenous world and this will be the great challenge to AIHEC in the future.
I would urge all tribal colleges to join and become accredited by WINHEC. This will greatly assist in the development of international recognition of standards that take into account the unique histories and worldviews of Native peoples. Such an effort can greatly add to the world culture as a whole.
James Shanley, Ed.D., served as president of Fort Peck Community College and was a founding member of AIHEC.