Friday, May 10, 2013

Local Tribes Stage Protest at HSU

Posted By on Fri, May 10, 2013 at 12:14 PM

Local Native American tribe leaders have organized a protest at the Humboldt State University quad today, and they accuse the school's president, Rollin Richmond, of trying to eliminate key support services for their community. In a press release issued this morning, Yurok Chairman Thomas O'Rourke Sr. said Richmond is ignoring recommendations from a working group that spent more than a thousand hours trying to improve and reorganize programs that serve Native Americans.

“HSU President Richmond flat out ignored the work group’s reorganizational plan and recommendations,” O’Rourke said in the release. “This plan would have greatly increased our students’ ability to succeed, at a time when Native American enrollment at the University is in a freefall because of how it treats indigenous people."

In response, HSU spokesman Paul Mann pointed out that the work group failed to reach a consensus recommendation on how best to reorganize the school's Native American programs. And he said that HSU leaders are still reviewing the matter.

The full press releases are below.

Here's the one issued this morning from Yurok Tribal spokesman Matt Mais:

Hundreds of Native American tribal members will protest in the Humboldt State University Quad today at noon to bring attention to the University’s effort to eradicate the services critical to the success of the American Indian student population.

“Humboldt State is failing in its attempt to become ‘exemplary partners’ with tribal nations,” said Yurok Chairman Thomas P. O’Rourke Sr.. “We’re asking that HSU honor the goals lined out in the institution’s Strategic Plan, one of which is to ‘expand the curriculum to reflect the region’s interests and needs.’”

In the summer of 2011, the Northern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association and Humboldt State formed the NCTCA HSU Workgroup. HSU President Rollin Richmond charged the Workgroup with reallocating the existing $1.1 million budget for Native programs, which includes Native American Studies. The University President instructed the group to restructure, with a focus on student success, the University’s Native student support and community outreach programs. The special group was also tasked with aligning the students, faculty and program objectives with the needs of the communities in the region.

The Northern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association is comprised of the leaders of 11 tribal nations and represents nearly half of all Native American’s in the state. The NTCA advocates for Native American issues at the local, state and federal level.

The main programs at risk, some of which have been operating for more than 25 years, include: Indian Tribal Education Personnel Program (ITEPP), Indian Natural Resources, Science and Engineering Program (INRSEP), Center for Indian Community Development (CIDC) and the Office for Indian Economic Development and Community Development. Countless Native students have benefited from the programs and have gone on to contribute positively to both tribal and non-tribal communities.

“These programs provide an invaluable service to Native American Tribes across the United States and should not be dismantled,” Chairman O’Rourke Sr. said. “Many of the Yurok Tribe’s employees, who currently occupy leading roles in the Tribe’s government, have used one or all of these versatile, time-tested programs.”

The NCTCA HSU Workgroup is comprised of six tribal and six university officials appointed by Richmond, and is jointly chaired by a representative from each group. In good faith, the stakeholder group put in more than a thousand hours developing a detailed plan to better meet the needs of the Native student population and the local community. The group completed the painstaking work of reorganizing the programs — complete with new job classifications and an organizational chart. Within the new plan, the group also made several recommendations including: consolidating existing services, creating a tribal liaison position, providing more recruitment and support services for Native students, continuing to protect the substantial native language collections and cultural archive and making these more accessible to the students’ and putting all the programs under one roof. Currently, the programs are located in various parts of the HSU campus.

“HSU President Richmond flat out ignored the work group’s reorganizational plan and recommendations,” Chairman O’Rourke Sr. said. “This plan would have greatly increased our students’ ability to succeed, at a time when Native American enrollment at the University is in a freefall because of how it treats indigenous people. We worked hard to come up with a cogent process to transform the university into a place that embraces the diversity tribal people bring to the institution, in exchange for preparing our people for the tribal workforce.”

American Indians, as a sub group, currently have the lowest six-year graduation rate for all sub-groups at Humboldt State University. As the largest tribe in California, the number of Yurok tribal members attending HSU has been on a steady decline over the past few years. Yurok students are choosing Sacramento State, Southern Oregon University and other universities in far off locations, according to statistics compiled by the Tribe’s Education Department. Local Yurok families choosing campuses that are far away creates more hardships on tight-knit tribal families, due to the financial expenses and the long distances. At other colleges, tribal students do not get the tribal nation building curriculum and tribal natural resources courses available at HSU.

Additionally, having a four-year university so close to tribal nations is important to tribal people because it allows Native students to continuously live cultural lives and pursue educational goals. Achieving a balance between practicing culture and participating in higher education is a proven route to long-term success for Indian people.

During the past few years, the Native support and community outreach programs have been operating in a state of limbo. They are currently suffering from a hiring freeze, and the programs are unable to hire new employees. With no clear guidance from the Richmond Administration, the programs have become fragmented and are not serving students at the level they deserve. New potential native students don’t have a clear sense of what is being offered to them by HSU.

HSU should and can be a university that is a model of service to the native tribal communities, as its mission statement clearly states: “Our region is unmatched in the number and size of vibrant indigenous Native American cultures.”

And here's the response from HSU spokesman Paul Mann:

When the HSU/NCTCA working group was unable to reach a consensus recommendation on restructuring Native American programs, President Richmond took prompt action on March 11, directing a systematic review and reorganization of all student support programs, aimed at augmenting student retention and graduate rates across-the-board. Our objective is student success, period. If programs should be reorganized, consolidated or replaced to achieve that success, that is what the University will do. There is no question, as President Richmond noted March 11, that we need to improve student success. We are making incremental progress but it is not enough. The full-scale review he ordered involves broad consultations with the University Senate and with our in-house strategic planning and enrollment management officers. Working groups are moving on the president’s directive as I write, and they are reviewing the roles and activities of dozens of relevant units across campus, including Native American support programs. We’re confident we can wrap up this review in the near-term. In the meantime, we will continue to encourage communication with tribal representatives, as we always have. The NCTCA working group’s inability to reach a consensus in recent months certainly doesn’t bar further discussion and collaboration. Our door is always open.

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Ryan Burns

Ryan Burns

Ryan Burns worked for the Journal from 2008 to 2013, covering a diverse mix of North Coast subjects, from education, politics and marijuana to human suspension, sex parties and amateur fight contests. He won awards for investigative reporting, feature stories and news coverage.

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