In a proclamation marking how far the tribal college movement has come, Ryan Wilson, president of the National Alliance to Save Native Languages, honored one tribal college president in particular.
“The story of Indian country’s tribal college movement is one that cannot be told without Sinte Gleska University President Lionel Bordeaux serving as a primary catalyst,” Wilson begins in the proclamation. “For 40 years President Bordeaux has been on the front lines of the tribal college movement. As Sinte Gleska has grown so has the movement and so has Indian country’s push for maximum control of Indian education; for culturally based education and for inclusion of Native languages in all aspects of Indian education.”
Wilson points out that having served as the president of Sinte Gleska in Mission, South Dakota since 1973, Bordeaux, Sicangu Lakota, is the longest continuous serving tribal college president, so he’s a time when many were not for tribal colleges.
“Sadly President Bordeaux was often placed in an environment by both Indian and non-Indian people to defend the use, need, function and academic legitimacy of Native languages,” Wilson says, adding that Bordeaux worked through times when the Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Congress of American Indians and National Indian Education Association, and even the President of the United States opposed the tribal college movement.
“Today presidents sign executive orders defending tribal colleges,” Wilson continues. “NCAI and NIEA are counted as among the staunchest supporters of tribal colleges… President Bordeaux and his belief in Native languages traversed a lonely road of ridicule, and uncertainty, to gaining support from Congress, the White House, and most important, Indian country.”
Bordeaux was the second president of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, and in 1978 became the president of NIEA. In 1992, he co-chaired the historic White House Conference on Indian Education.
This isn’t the first time Bordeaux has been honored. In 1988, NIEA selected him as educator of the year and in 2003, the organization honored him with the inaugural lifetime achievement award.
“These are the types of historic achievements that are possible through prayer, dedication, team building, and total unwavering commitment to the guiding principles of the tribal college movement,” Wilson says. “While progress has been slow and many obstacles remain, the rare life of someone like President Bordeaux lifts our spirits and provides for us a way forward in our rapidly changing world.”
Wilson’s proclamation was read with other letters of appreciation on February 2 during a celebration of Sinte Gleska’s 40th anniversary. Aside from the letters and proclamations, Bordeaux was presented with gifts. Among them was a limited edition Pendleton blanket of Two Ravens on behalf of President Russell Mason Jr. of Fort Berthold Community College in New Town, North Dakota.
Sinte Gleska and Fort Berthold were among the first six tribal colleges in the nation.