San Diego

New Tribal Colleges Offer ‘Sense Of Belonging’ For Native Students But Hit Roadblocks

August 5, 2021

Victoria Chubb was supposed to check images at a university in New Mexico after graduating from highschool in Riverside County, however was afraid of being far-off from residence.

“I really did just chicken out to leave my reservation and to leave California,” stated Chubb, a member of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians.


She tried to return to artwork college in San Bernadino a couple of years later, however dropped out to look after her mom, who was in poor health.

Eighteen years later, Chubb, now 36, is attending a tribal school, the California Indian Nations College, or CINC, in Palm Desert ⁠— one in every of three lately based in California. She’s thriving there as a liberal arts scholar and plans to complete an affiliate’s diploma earlier than transferring to a four-year college.

Supporters of California’s new tribal faculties hope they can assist extra Native American college students like Chubb return to larger schooling — or stop them from dropping out within the first place.

Advocates say creating extra tribal faculties is one approach to offset these traits, and the preliminary outcomes of the three rising faculties in California are promising. At CINC in Palm Desert and Kumeyaay Community College in El Cajon, enrollment has remained regular or elevated in the course of the pandemic. A 3rd tribal school in Woodland, California Tribal College, will open its doorways to college students in fall 2021.

“Tribal colleges and universities are different from mainstream colleges and universities,” stated Robert Przeklasa, a former chief educational officer at CINC who lately left the faculty to work for a non-profit. “There is a sense of belonging, a sense of identity, a sense of ease that the students end up feeling.”

That helps enhance retention and commencement charges, analysis has documented. Native college students who switch to a four-year college from a tribal school usually tend to earn a level, research have shown. The Center for Community College Engagement discovered that 88 % of Native college students who attend a tribal school say they really feel a way of belonging on campus. That contrasts with the sense of invisibility and lack of community that Native college students — who’re extra possible than their non-Native friends to be older or mother and father — usually report experiencing at predominantly white establishments.

“I’ve seen a lot of people enrolled that I don’t think would have enrolled in a regular community college.”
victoria chubb, scholar at California Indian Nations College

In Chubb’s household, neither of her mother and father earned a university diploma, however immediately larger schooling has grow to be a household affair. Counting on her fingers, Chubb goes by an extended listing of sisters, cousins and nieces who’ve adopted in her footsteps at CINC.

“I’ve seen a lot of people enrolled that I don’t think would have enrolled in a regular community college,” she stated.

There’s a urgent demand for this sort of schooling in a state the place 330,000 Californians belong to a federally acknowledged tribe, tribal school advocates say.

“There’s a lot of need in California Indian Country for higher education,” stated Przeklasa. “I believe that a tribal college is a way to help close those equity gaps.”

Still, new tribal faculties face an uphill battle due to the time and prices related to accreditation, which they require to award levels. And the universities have to lift funds to cover operational prices as a result of there are at present no federal or state larger schooling {dollars} out there to them.

‘There was a spot for me’

American Indians and Alaska Natives account for lower than 1% of scholars in each the University of California and California State University programs, in contrast with around 1.6% of California’s inhabitants, in response to the U.S. Census.

The majority of Native college students who do go to school in California enroll at neighborhood faculties. During the pandemic, Native enrollment throughout the California neighborhood school system declined by greater than 22%, in response to system officers.

But at CINC, which was created by the Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians in partnership with the College of the Desert, scholar enrollment elevated by 10% from 2020 to 2021. Over 180 college students from greater than 50 tribes have attended the faculty because it started providing lessons in 2018, and CINC held its first graduation ceremony in June to rejoice the primary 5 college students who’ve earned affiliate’s levels.

CINC focuses on uplifting college students’ identities by culturally related lessons, reminiscent of these in Cahuilla, a language spoken by varied tribes all through the Coachella Valley. That attracts college students who may not really feel comfy at mainstream faculties.

“I didn’t ever like school, even though I was good at it,” stated Chubb’s cousin Rebecca Waters, additionally a member of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians. But as a scholar at CINC, “I love going to college,” she stated.

In El Cajon, Kumeyaay Community College started providing an accredited affiliate’s program by Cuyamaca Community College in 2018.

The school focuses on Kumeyaay language, arts, tradition, historical past and different topics reminiscent of ethnoecology, the research of the connection between an ecosystem and a bunch of individuals.

“We want to reverse erasure, we want to teach our culture and we want to teach our history,” stated President Stan Rodriguez, a member of the Kumeyaay Santa Ysabel Band of the Iipay Nation.

In Kumeyaay language programs, college students talk with Kumeyaay audio system from either side of the U.S.-Mexico border, and — in non-Covid occasions — journey to Baja California to go to the location of the tribe’s creation story. Out of the roughly 4,600 Kumeyaay folks in 16 communities in Southern California and Mexico, solely round 41 communicate the language, Rodriguez stated.

“We want to reverse erasure, we want to teach our culture and we want to teach our history.”
Stan Rodriguez, president, Kumeyaay Community College

Raymond Martinez, a 20-year previous Kumeyaay research main and a member of the Kumeyaay Santa Ysabel Band of the Iipay Nation in San Diego County, stated he research Kumeyaay to cross the language on to future generations.

“I wanted to learn more about my people and what runs in my bloodline,” he stated. “It’s very important for me because that is who I am as a person; it’s my identity.”

Enrollment at Kumeyaay Community College has held roughly regular in the course of the pandemic, with 122 college students enrolled in fall 2020 in comparison with 126 in fall 2019, Rodriguez stated.

The distinction between a mainstream school and a tribal one was putting for Roseanne Rosenthal, a descendant of the Piro-Manso-Tewa tribe. She all the time dreamed of going to school. But after her mom died when she was 12, she dropped out of highschool.

She finally earned her GED and began pursuing a double main in psychology and Native American Studies at UC Riverside at age 56. But she additionally took an ethnic research class at CINC. There, she noticed school that seemed like her, a rarity for Native college students at mainstream faculties. (Native school make up lower than 1% of instructors at each the University of California and California State University, for instance.)

“There was this place for me. I felt like I could at least have a chance here,” Rosenthal stated. She’s now ending a doctoral program in anthropology with a spotlight in Native American well being programs.

Born out of a motion, grounded in Native tradition

Tribal faculties are usually not a brand new concept in California.

Founded in 1971, Deganawidah-Quetzalcoatl University, California’s first and solely accredited tribal school, was one of many first six such faculties within the United States. The college’s identify was shortened to D-Q as a result of referring to Deganawidah, the founding father of the Iroquois Confederacy, and Quetzalcoatl, an Aztec deity, exterior of a ceremonial context, was considered sacrilegious. Born out of the American Indian Movement of the late Sixties, it was an intertribal school, somewhat than being chartered by a single tribe.

Archival picture of a mural at D-Q University. Photo courtesy of Tribal College Journal

Rodriguez, the president of Kumeyaay Community College, enrolled as a scholar there within the late Seventies. At the age of 17, he took a Greyhound bus from southern California to Davis.

“I remember I had a duffel bag,” he stated. “I was ready to be a student and I walked on this beautiful campus, UC Davis. And I thought that was D-Q University.”

When he realized he was within the incorrect place, he flagged down a taxi and requested the driving force to take him to D-Q — west of Davis by 10 miles of rolling farmland. They drove as much as a campus sprinkled with navy buildings, positioned on the location of a former military telecommunications base.

“I saw this place with all these murals on it, a barbed wire fence around it. And I thought, ‘This place looks like a prison,” Rodriguez stated.

Despite the spartan structure, Rodriguez stated his lifelong career as an Indigenous educator was born at D-Q.

“I remember every week, we honored our indigeneity … we honored our elders. And it was also stressed that we need to be able to speak for ourselves. We needed to be able to navigate both worlds, but we needed to be grounded culturally,” he stated.

D-Q was not eligible for any federal funding till Congress handed the Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities Assistance Act in 1978, however even then, the faculty struggled financially. By 2005, the faculty lost its accreditation and needed to shutter.

The signal for shuttered D-Q University stays standing alongside Country Road 31 in Yolo County on January 21, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

Surviving by neighborhood school partnerships

There are at present 35 absolutely accredited tribal faculties and universities, within the United States, most positioned within the Southwest and the Plains states.

Accreditation could be gradual and costly, as a result of faculties should foot the invoice for web site visits and costs, in addition to put money into any enhancements required by the accreditor. So tribal faculties usually accomplice with mainstream larger schooling establishments, “borrowing” their potential to award levels whereas they work on constructing capability and getting the designation themselves, stated Cheryl Crazy Bull, a citizen of the Sicangu Lakota tribe and president of the nonprofit American Indian College Fund.

At the identical time, it may be difficult to satisfy each the calls for of accrediting businesses and the cultural wants of scholars, particularly earlier than tribal faculties can function independently. Kumeyaay has been in a position to develop its personal curriculum as a result of its partnership with Cuyamaca has been in place for greater than 15 years.

But as a result of it takes years for brand new programs to be accepted, CINC can solely supply lessons listed of their accomplice school’s course catalog, stated Joshua Cárdenas, the tutorial coordinator and a historical past teacher at CINC. Although CINC is working with College of the Desert to develop its personal curriculum, for the time being, the historical past division the place Cárdenas teaches solely gives one course centered on Native folks, he stated.

Faculty have needed to be inventive in response to make sure they’re delivering course content material that affirms their Native college students’ identities. For a course on mass media, they have been ready to usher in Native visitor audio system who work within the media and movie industries.

“We really have to do a lot of work right now just to survive in this limbo period,” Cárdenas stated.

New tribal faculties face ‘Catch-22’ in funding

While tribal faculties are well-positioned to assist Native college students, funding for brand new ones is precarious as Native communities face financial fallout from the pandemic.

Unaccredited tribal faculties aren’t at present eligible for any state or federal academic funding, together with COVID-19 aid funds. That consists of the $600 million for minority-serving institutions that President Joe Biden lately included in his 2022 schooling price range proposal.

That means new tribal faculties usually should depend on funding from tribes and different personal donations. California Tribal College, for example, lately acquired a $50,000 donation from a personal donor in Yolo County that can be used to assist present technology to its college students, stated director Juliet Maestas, an enrolled member of the Hoopa Valley Tribe.

Tribes and reservations in California are additionally a lot smaller than a lot of their counterparts in different states, making it tough for a single tribe to constitution and sponsor a university. During the pandemic, tribal communities have lost income from gaming and tourism. At the identical time, accreditation is pricey.

“It’s really this Catch-22,” Przeklasa stated. “You can’t get any funding until you get accredited, but you need funding to get accredited.”

“You can’t get any funding until you get accredited, but you need funding to get accredited.”
Robert Przeklasa, former chief educational officer at California Indian Nations College

Even after tribal faculties obtain accreditation, they are not eligible for federal funding focused at such faculties except greater than 50% of their college students are enrolled in federally acknowledged tribes.

“When you’re in a more populated area, maintaining that 50% plus one is more challenging,” Crazy Bull, of the American Indian College Fund, stated.

In early April, CINC directors anxious they could have to shut their doorways on the finish of the summer season after anticipating an 80 % decline of their working price range, Przeklasa stated.

The Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians donated $500,000 to CINC, a fraction of the $3 million wanted by fall, and is looking on others to match the funding. At the tip of July, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians donated a further $100,000, and College of the Desert has provided to pay the educational prices for CINC’s adjuncts for the 2021-2022 educational year.

Even earlier than the pandemic, CINC already operated on a lean price range underneath $2 million, protecting the salaries of eight employees members and supporting 50 college students — who do not pay any tuition due to the faculty’s accreditation standing.

Przeklasa stated the funding from Twenty-Nine Palms will assist the faculty keep open within the fall, however long-term funding is required to maintain it.

“It’s going to require sort of a coalition of tribes coming together to fund these efforts,” Przeklasa stated.

All three faculties are working collectively to foyer for federal and state assist for brand new tribal establishments in California, however these efforts are of their infancy. California is an enormous state, Przeklasa stated, and “would require more than one tribal college really to serve the population.”

Chubb, the CINC scholar, says she plans on utilizing her affiliate’s diploma as a stepping stone to pursue a bachelor’s in museum research or artwork historical past. She at present serves as an govt board member of the Morongo Malki Museum, which is devoted to preserving the historical past and tradition of Native American communities in southern California.

Victoria Chubb, heart, together with her cousin, Rebecca Waters, left, and niece Robyn Johnson, photographed on the Morongo Indian Reservation on Dec. 30, 2020. All three are present college students on the California Indians Nations College and hope to switch to 4 -year universities after finishing an affiliate’s diploma. Photo by Joyce Nugent for the CalMatters College Journalism Network

She continues to encourage different members of her neighborhood to take at the least one class at CINC.

“That gets their foot in the door, and then they want to take another class and another class,” Chubb stated. “And next thing you know, we can have more educated people and come back to the reservation and use these skills that they learned. That’s what I plan to do — use this for the benefit of my people.”

Hall is an intern with the CalMatters College Journalism Network, a collaboration between CalMatters and scholar journalists from throughout California. Joyce Nugent contributed reporting. This story and different larger schooling protection are supported by the College Futures Foundation.

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