Honoring Nations: David Gipp: Sovereignty Today

Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

President David Gipp of United Tribes Technical College synthesizes the words of the "Sovereignty Today" presenters at the 2007 Honoring Nations symposium, and discusses the direct relationship between a Native nation's effective exercise of sovereignty and its distinct traditional cultural values and identity.

Native Nations
Resource Type

Gipp, David. "Sovereignty Today." Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development. John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. September 27-28, 2007. Presentation.

Amy Besaw Medford:

"We're not just leaving yet. We're hoping that the microphones are still going to circulate around. Dr. David Gipp from United Tribes Technical College, also on the board of governors is going to join me and kind of synthesize some of the things that we've heard today, and set the stage for tomorrow 's discussion. So I hope you humor us, and participate with us, add to things that we may have missed, add to things that you would like to hear spoken about tomorrow, issues that you wanted to bring forward, things you want to further pull out. So without further adieu, Dr. David Gipp."

David Gipp:

"Well, I would say we had quite a discussion going already in terms of reflections and what's going on, and I'm not sure that I can do justice to some of the remarks that have already been made. But I was asked to give some remarks about our first panel and some of the other remarks that have been made throughout the day. It seems to me that every one of the panels -- both panels and the panelists themselves -- have really done a wonderful job of not only telling us what their projects and programs have been and how they're contributing to their particular tribal nation and community, but also how they are really reinforcing that infrastructure which is really critical to all of our lives, as the Chief [Oren Lyons], I think summed it up so well in terms of the world and the future and the generations to come, the seven generations.

I'm a Lakota, a Hunkpapa Lakota. From Standing Rock is where I'm from, from North and South Dakota. And I'm President of the United Tribes [Technical College] in Bismarck, North Dakota. And one of my chiefs, the Hunkpapa, was Sitting Bull, and he was a man who believed in nationhood. He didn't believe in signing treaties and he never signed one to his death in 1890, just shortly before Wounded Knee. And I talk a little bit about that, because you raised the question of what would his generation say about us today and what would they say about even our remarks and our outlook on life. And oftentimes, I listen to some of my leaders out in my region of the country talk about being treaty tribes and bragging about it, when I know that Sitting Bull disdained the signing of treaties because he felt that was the first step towards defeat, the first step towards losing what we call sovereignty. And as you say, we did not have a word for that but other than our nation and the Lakota nation in our word, which was both 'friend' and 'ally' in terms of our translation. And so we look at that and look at the era and the times and how they have changed, and now we look at what happens with U.S. policy and how that continues to affect or disaffect us, I guess becomes the other part of the question.

But I look at the projects today and we know that they really are exemplary. They are the proactive things that we are doing among ourselves, and the creation of good things among ourselves to look at success, because indeed, we are constantly wrapped up with the issues of all of the problems that are out there -- methamphetamine, jurisdictional issues between our states and our tribes, and who takes precedent over whom in terms of how we enforce the laws of our own lands, and how those things are going to be affected, and the fact that we have not enough law enforcement officials on any one of our reserves, any one of our territories. You go to my place at Standing Rock, I think we have six officers full time, seven days a week if you will, to cover about actually, 2.3 million acres of land, similar to your territory in Hopi, similar to our friends at Red Lake. And the issues that are faced there constantly, day in, day out with the lack of adequate, just plain police protection of our own, by our own. And so these are the conditions that every one of our people face back home and have to live with on a day-to-day basis.

I listened to one of my councilmen from Standing Rock recently talk about the issues of gang and how they affect and disaffect rural reservation areas, and how you have to wait hours for a policeman to get there on the site when an incident occurs, and how the community is in fact disenfranchised from itself, and how mothers and fathers and elders are intimidated by those kinds of actions. And we talk about the Mexican influence of methamphetamine, and coming into our communities, and taking advantage of our women. Those are the disparities that we talk about every day.

But what is good about these projects, the Honoring Nations projects, is that they demonstrate clearly what we can do in our own communities by our own tribal nations, and how we can take, if you will, the bull by the horns and begin to reshape what we have in our communities, and do them in successful, in proactive, in positive and in constructive ways that can demonstrate what's so important to our youth and to our elders and to all of the rest of the adults in our communities. That we can create, in fact, our own role models, that we can create our own kinds of models themselves -- whether they are financial in nature or whether they are behavioral in nature -- through the courts or through education systems.

I've been in the business of tribal college development and university development for close to 34-35 years. I've been president at United Tribes [Technical College] for 30 years now, or better than 30 years. We serve nationally about 30-35,000 students around the country, among the 35-36 tribal colleges that are out there today. When we started out, we started out with six tribal colleges. Navajo Nation was at the forefront of creating, at that time, Navajo Community College, now Diné College, and was one of the leaders to help create the movement, if you will. And in North and South Dakota, the core of the tribal college movement began there, and emanated out to places like Montana and other parts of the nation, if you will. But when we started out, many, many academics said we could not do that, (A) because we didn't have enough educated people to educate ourselves, (B) because we didn't have the resources. And the U.S. government testified against us, in the first Senate hearing in October of 1975, and said, ‘Tribal colleges weren't necessary because we already had three institutions funded by the federal government and operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.' We said, ‘No, we want to do this ourselves for ourselves, by ourselves and through and with, and through Indian nations, and to reinforce the sovereignty of Indian tribes.' And some among us even challenged us saying that that is not what we were doing. We prevailed, if you will. At that point, in 1974-75 we had about 1,500 tribal students across the country. We have tribal colleges that are not only doing the two-year programs, but they're doing four-year programs and they're doing, beginning graduate programs. We're moving from a two-year to a four-year institution in the course of three years now -- one in the area of public health, the other in the area of business, a third in the area of law enforcement, because of the disparities that we see across the land, and the fourth dealing with leadership itself, and what tribal leaders need to know.

And that is why I think the beginning kinds of curriculum that we see here, that's been developed through the Harvard Project on American Indian [Economic] Development, are so critical. And all of the things that we're doing in our tribal communities become so, so relevant to what needs to be taught at, and through, and in our Indian communities, whether we have populations in rural reservation settings or in urban Indian settings. We must not forget the fact that we have a large concentration of our populations living in places like Minneapolis or L.A. or Phoenix, Arizona, or Albuquerque and on down the line. We must not leave those young people out of the equation because they are part of us. Some of them are your relatives; some of them are your brothers and sisters. They want a part of Indian Country and they want to be a part of Indian Country, but we must go back and begin to teach them the issues of values, the issues of language, of culture and of what community is about. And that I think is what is epitomized by the projects that we heard today, in all of the panels, in every one of them. Some doing it with resources, some with doing it with few or no resources, but nevertheless doing them and that was how we began the tribal college movement. What was significant about it is that the U.S. government opposed us all the way. And that's when I think of Sitting Bull who said, ‘I will do what I will do and I will prevail.'

I watched this Emmy-winning movie that was produced about Sitting Bull and, quite frankly, it was one of the greatest misrepresentations, at least the film version, of Sitting Bull. Fine that they used Indian actors -- and I'm glad that Indian actors were used as far as part of getting a bit of employment and perhaps some notoriety -- but the story was one of the greatest misrepresentations of who we are: Lakota people, Hunkpapa people, in particular. Some of the story lines and some of the things that were said in that movie were absolutely untrue. I remember the scene in that movie when Major McLaughlin appeared with Sitting Bull and told him that, ‘You will be educated by my schools.' And while that may be truth, in terms of the policy itself, it was a statement that McLaughlin never said, because Sitting Bull demanded his own schools. He had traveled the world, literally, to Europe in the Wild West shows of Buffalo Bill Cody. He came home and he went to one of our beginning, if you will, boarding schools back home in a place called Kennel, South Dakota, on the Standing Rock, and he talked to the children of that school. And what he told them was that they needed to learn the words of the white man, the wasicu. They needed to know how to use them and write them and construct them because he said, ‘If you don't, you will not survive.' He said, ‘I've been out there and I've seen them coming,' and he said, ‘there are so many you can't count them.' He meant like the ants and like the locusts. He said, 'There are so many that are coming.' He said, ‘You will never believe how many there are.' And he said, ‘If you don't learn these ways and these things, you will not be able to defend yourself and you will not have the life that you want.' I know those words were true, because one of those little children in that school was my grandmother and she knew what he meant. Don't give up your ways, but you need to learn and constantly take in all of these other things, and you must not forget who you are, but you must always be sure that you use them in a way that protects you. The adage that he used was, ‘If you see something in the white man's world and on the road, pick it up if it's good. But if it's bad, make sure you throw it away and don't use it, because it's not relevant to you and you'll lose your way.' Part of that is the issue of things like methamphetamines and the alcohol and all of those so-called things that are not a part of our life, because they were not part of our life, at least not among the Lakota, not originally. Now we're battling new kinds of battles.

So I look at what we're doing with the Harvard Honoring Nations, and indeed it's a great honor to have sat with this board and to look at the various projects, because then we get to see all of the wonderful and great things that are coming from America in terms of all of our own people, our own Native American Indian tribal nations. This is a good thing. And so you're at a good table, and there are good things in our road and we can continue to make those good things. That's what I observe today as I listen to all of the wonderful remarks. Yes, challenges, some of them difficult, but nevertheless I think every one of them things that we can use in good ways and make that road a good road, a good red road. We talk about it in the way that we say [Lakota language]: We're all related; we're all connected. There's not one of us that isn't connected. No matter what your language, no matter what your heritage, no matter how you understand your way, we're all connected and that's the way we have to be."

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