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Tribal College Students Petition Congress for More Financial Help

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by Black Issues

Tribal College Students Petition Congress for More Financial Help

SANTA FE, N.M.  —  Students at the Institute of American Indian Arts have started a letter-writing campaign to Congress and are seeking help from their tribes, saying the school needs more support than it’s getting.
Under a compromise version of funding for the school, the institute is getting $2.12 million for the year that began last month, about half of last year’s appropriation. And students say that simply isn’t enough.
The U.S. House of Representatives, this year, wanted to cut off the two-year Indian arts school entirely; the Senate proposed to fund it at $4.25 million. Five years ago, the school received $9.4 million from Congress.
Second-year student Nonabah Sam, daughter of two of the institute graduates, believes in the school’s resilience. “If we can do it up to this point, I know we can do it further,” she says.
The last round of budget tightening at the institute shut down entire programs, such as Native American dance, and caused faculty members to be laid off.
The institute’s President, Della Warrior, says the school had planned ahead for a budget cut — but not such a large one. The institute was entirely dependent on federal money four years ago, but now draws 27 percent of its budget from private sources.
She planned a summit late last month to make the budget-balancing process for this year “a participatory process to the extent that is possible.”
“Each director was instructed to meet with their faculty or staff and talk about their goals and tie in their costs with the goals,” Warrior says. “We are pretty lean, but we’ll just have to get leaner and meaner in a budget sense.
“We’re going back to struggling for survival,” she adds.
Student Sonny Stickman, a 38-year-old museum studies major who is the institute’s student body president, is intent on increasing support for the institute from the Alaska Federation of Nations.
“We’re telling all the students to get in touch with their tribal government,” says the Alaska native, a Koyukon Athabascan tribal member. “We’re asking for a show of support from any Indian community when they get together.”
Warrior says the school will not cut academic programs or positions on the faculty of 12 full-time teachers and 10 part-time jobs. However, Warrior says the institute might consider temporarily reducing the work week from 40 to 35 or even 30 hours for members of the 30-person staff at the institute and its downtown Santa Fe museum.
“Or maybe we’ll see if there’s anybody we can furlough over the summer,” she says.
The school has a small endowment it can fall back on in emergencies. Warrior says the endowment “is not large enough to sustain the school for two years, but we can use it to supplement operations.”
The institute will push to finish construction of a new campus near Santa Fe Community College by next fall. But it might have to put off plans to expand the student body.
The school has raised $10 million toward the $14 million campus project and that money cannot be used for operations (see Black Issues, May 13). Opening its own campus will save the school $500,000 a year in rent to Santa Fe Community College, where the institute currently is located.                                   

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