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Tribal College Partnerships Are The Focus Of The 2022 FALCON Post Conference

Submitted by Steve Gavazzi on

Forbes Article from 10/24/22

The 2022 First Americans Land Grant Consortium (FALCON) conference took place this past weekend in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and organizers witnessed record attendance throughout the multiday event. Today, there is a post-conference meeting that focuses attention on strengthening partnerships between Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) and predominantly white serving institutions known as the 1862 land-grant universities (LGUs). Supported by grants from the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA is part of USDA) and the North Central Regional Center for Rural Development, a variety of faculty, staff, and students from both the TCUs and 1862 LGUs have gathered to discuss how their institutions can better collaborate in the areas of teaching, research, and community engagement.

Why all this newfound interest in cross-institutional collaboration? Previous articles have contributed to a growing awareness of the immense resource disparities that exist between these institutions of higher learning. In brief, for every $100 in federal funding received by the 1862 LGUs, the TCUs receive little more than $1. This sort of ongoing financial inequality is both staggering and unconscionable and most quickly can be remedied through various resource-sharing models that become embedded in such partnerships.

A more recent article sketched out what was termed “the Four R’s” — Response, Relationships, Reciprocity, and Reporting — that provided both guidance and direction to the formation and maintenance of already emerging partnerships between TCUs and 1862 LGUs. The Four R’s were the inspiration of Richard Williams, a member of the Oglala Lakota and Northern Cheyenne Tribes and Indigenous consultant for First Nations Development Institute who previously served as executive director of the American Indian College Fund. Taken together, the “4 R’s” were asserted to be part of a new narrative which outlined the obligations and responsibilities that the 1862 LGUs have in relation to their partnering TCUs.

One of the main presenters at the FALCON post-conference is Amber Marlow, dean of students and community engagement at Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe University (LCOOU), which is in northwest Wisconsin. Much of her thinking on how to foster successful partnerships is based on a newer USDA-NIFA grant program known as the New Beginning for Tribal Students initiative, which in the case of Wisconsin led to collaborations between LCOOU, the College of Menominee Nation, and the University of Wisconsin–Madison. “Although initially driven by the funding,” she explained in preparation for this event, “the most worthwhile outcome has been the relationship building and the additional projects that have occurred since the initial award.” Looking toward the future, Ms. Marlow stated that “tribal communities understand resiliency, and as we move forward it is imperative to identify needs and frame solutions in a way that can be as unique as the communities themselves. This takes effort from all collaborators, and we need to move forward with intention, mutual respect, and the building of trust.”

FALCON is part of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC), which provides leadership and influences public policy on American Indian and Alaska Native higher education issues for the 37 TCUs represented by this organization. Erica Moore, AIHEC’s executive director of Native student success, also will be on hand as a panelist for the post-conference. Asked what she thinks about the future of the partnerships under discussion, Dr. Moore remarked that they “will generate additional revenue and resources that can support rematriation of tribal communities and deliver impactful models for student success. These types of collaborations provide sovereign spaces when returning the land is not a physical possibility.”

Representatives also will be on hand from those predominantly white serving 1862 LGUs that are seeking to partner with TCUs. Katie Hartmann, an agricultural education extension specialist and adjunct assistant professor at Iowa State University, was on hand to discuss her research on collaborations between extension educators and Indigenous communities. “Through the gathering of information about what makes these partnerships successful, as well as what barriers they faced, we hope to identify those systemic changes that need to be made in extension to enable collaborations to be sustainable, Dr. Hartmann explained. “I hope that we can learn from folks in the field about promising practices and what we as a system can do to best support them.”

Nicole Adams, clinical associate professor of nursing at Purdue University, also is coming to the FALCON post-conference to present her work on building relationships between her institution and the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota in service to the development of an addictions recovery center. Dr. Adams believes that the motivations underlying these sorts of activities always should be scrutinized. “Ask yourself why? Why do you want to work with a Native American tribe or tribal college? Who owns the products of your work? Are you giving or are you taking?” she suggests asking. Striking a hopeful tone, Dr. Adams offers that “I would love to see a network or resource guide of 1862 faculty that are interested in partnering with 1994 faculty and a method for (TCU) faculty to solicit partnerships on their own terms.”

Food sovereignty and other food-related issues are hot topics right now, and Kolia Souza is coming to the FALCON post-conference to introduce participants to work being done through the national Racial Equity in the Food System workgroup. Ms. Souza, who is the food systems equity and advocacy specialist for Michigan State University’s Center for Regional Food Systems, believes that “our circles of influence matter, and strategic partnerships can play a critical role in shifting systems.” This sort of work is extremely challenging, she goes on to say, but food-related justice is attainable. “It will take the power of diverse voices and resources from national partners, minority-serving institutions like the TCUs, and communities themselves to demonstrate and integrate the principles of racial equity, and for those in power to actively integrate the principles of racial equity. But first we need to understand and engage in equitable partnerships.” 

Clearly, higher education leaders on both sides of these partnerships are betting on the success of these ventures. The post-conference headline speakers are populated by visionaries such as Chris Caldwell, president of the College of Menominee Nation, and South Dakota State University president Barry Dunn. Even with all this fanfare, however, will the post-conference really be able to deliver on the promise of a new narrative, one that is predicated on authentic relationships and institutional accountability? John Phillips, FALCON executive director, clearly thinks so. “This meeting is an important step in continuing the conversation on equity in the land-grant system and exploring ways the system can serve all members of society,” he remarked. “As we acknowledge the past, we are finding ways to collaborate and innovate to better engage with Native American communities. We are hopeful that today’s meeting will create new partnerships and strategies in the future.”…