Sacred Earth Radio - Thomas Short Bull

Thomas Short Bull, President of Ogala Lakota College in Kyle, North Dakota
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ANNOUNCER: This program is brought to you by White Buffalo Lodges authentic Native American Teepees/Tipis and traditional Native designs. Welcome to Sacred Earth Radio where the people on the planet come together and here is your host, John Bentley.

JOHN: Today on Sacred Earth Radio we have Thomas Short Bull. He is president of Ogala Lakota College in Kyle, North Dakota. Welcome to the program, Mr. Short Bull.

THOMAS: It’s nice to be here.

JOHN: Tell us a little bit about Ogala Lakota College please.

THOMAS: In order to understand tribal colleges, you have to understand the history of Indian education. And that is when we were placed on Indian reservations there was a mentality that we weren’t smart enough to be professional people. So in the early years of the reservation, we were sent off to trade schools to be carpenters, blacksmiths, shoemakers; for women, seamstress and cooks. And so we were sent off to institutions like Carlisle Indian School where the great Jim Thorpe went to school and to learn a trade. So up until the 1950s, basically that was our mode of education…going to trade schools. But beginning in 1950 there was then a handful of Indian people that went off to mainstream institution to get a degree from an institution of higher education. So this mentality really continued up until about the 1960’s and that’s when Johnson declared war on poverty and he felt that we needed to empower Indian people in this country and so Indian students were then sent off to mainstream institutions to get a college degree. When I started at the University of South Dakota in 1965, 20 of us entered as incoming freshmen and out of that class of 20 students only 2 of us graduated. So with those high failure rates our elders on our reservation said why can’t we create a college to educate the people for the jobs that exist on the reservation? They felt that our students were failing at mainstream institutions because of the social adjustment at these mainstream institutions. So our institution came into existence in 1971. We’ve been in existence some 37 years. We’ve had great success. We always tell people that if you come to our reservation in the 1970’s you might have seen one or two teachers that were Indian and as far as nurses you might have seen one or two nurses that were Indian. As a result of our college being on the Pine Ridge Reservation of the over 200 teaching positions…elementary teachers…over 100 of those teachers are now Indian and of those Indian teachers 86% of those teachers are graduates of our college. It’s the same way with our nursing program putting registered nurses in the hospital. Of the number of nurses that we have on the reservation, 80% of them are now Indian and 80% of those nurses on the reservation are graduate of our nursing school. So we’ve had great success, and we continue to educate people so that they can have the credentials to hold professional jobs that exist on our reservation.

JOHN: Well, Thomas, it sounds like you’ve come a long way since the 1960’s. Tell us about some of the classes that you offer at the college.

THOMAS: Well we are only one of two tribal colleges that offers a number of bachelor’s degrees and we also offer one master’s degree in Lakota leadership and the only master’s degree that I saw similar to ours was at the San Diego State where they have a master’s degree in Japanese leadership. The whole mentality is that based on your culture, your leadership skills are different depending on what your culture is. We offer a host of different and varied bachelor degrees, the elementary education as I said. We offer a degree in math and science and environmental science. We offer a degree in social work. We offer a degree in Lakota studies. We offer a degree in humanities and so any college courses that you would see on a main stream institution those would be similar courses that we would have at our institution.

JOHN: Now, Thomas, how long have you been with the college, and why did you decide to get into this field?

THOMAS: Well, I’m a product of the 60’s where we felt that we should go back and help our people, and I’ve been president on two occasions from 1975 – 1979 and from 1994. So all together I have almost 18 years. In fact, next month, I’ll have 18 years. The one thing I want to say about the tribal is we are one of the few tribal colleges that require our students to take 12 hours of Lakota studies courses either in language, history, or culture. We just had a newsletter that we’re going to put out, as one of the students said, you know, we take courses in these block of courses, and basically it helps us understand who we are as Indian people by taking these Lakota studies courses, because, you know, the American people try to simulate us into white people and there’s been really a loss of identity as who we are as Indian people. So those courses are really beneficial to our students.

JOHN: Thomas we’re going to take a break right now, but we’ll be right back on Sacred Earth Radio with the president of the Ogala Lakota College, Thomas Short Bull.

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JOHN: Welcome back to Sacred Earth Radio. We are in the studio via telephone with the president of the Ogala Lakota College, Thomas Short Bull. Welcome back to the program, Thomas.

THOMAS: Thank you.

JOHN: We’ve been talking about the great strides that your people have made in the collegiate level and the classes and things that you offer to your college. I wanted to talk a little bit about your history. Your grandfather was a pretty significant leader of your people, wasn’t he?

THOMAS: Yeah. It’s kind of interesting that I come from a lineage where my great grandfather wanted to change how we were treated by the federal government by going to a religion that basically believed that there would be a reawakening and we would be elevated to a different status through an almost like an end of the world scenario where the white man would be destroyed and we would be brought back to prominence. And that was Ghost Dance Religion and that came among many tribes in the West in the 1890’s. Unfortunately, that Ghost Dance Religion led to the Wounded Knee Massacre and as we say in our materials, you know, Black Elk said, you know, the hoop of life was broken when the Wounded Knee Massacre occurred and that what the college is is trying to mend that hoop of life for Indian people.

JOHN: Awesome. Alright I want to move onto a couple of other things about your college. One is what do you think makes your college unique and separates you from other opportunities that your people could have?

THOMAS: I think the unique thing is that someone can get a professional degree either to be a teacher, a scientist, a lawyer, but he will be deeply rooted in his culture and have a better knowledge base of who he is as an Indian person as a result of coming to our college. That’s the main difference from us and the mainstream institution.

JOHN: Now are there other colleges across the nation that are doing similar education like you?

THOMAS: I believe there is somewhere between 33 and 35 tribal colleges across the nation. The largest and the oldest of the tribal colleges, the Dine College which used to be called Navajo and it’s…like to talk about the word Sioux and Dine and Navajo. Well the word Navajo is basically a Spanish word and the word that the people call them on the reservation there is they refer to themselves as Dine. So if you would have come to our website and looked what is the tribal government for our reservation, you’d see Ogala-Sioux. Well Sioux is a French word that characterizes us as a people, but when we talk about ourselves we say Lakota so Ogala-Lakota College is what we are known as, but in the past we were also called Ogala- Sioux Community College. Again it’s that situation where in history we were given names by the non-Indian European nation. So that’s what the situation is. We’re the second oldest of the tribal colleges and the second largest. We have annually our semester by semester is somewhere around 1400 – 1500 students and predominantly we have more women than men…about 65% - 75% women and it’s because a lot of the degree offering are historically degrees that women have gone into, teachers, nurses, social work and things like this. So I hope I’ve given you a little bit of a knowledge base of our college.

JOHN: Certainly, now Thomas, what does the future hold for Ogala Lakota College?

THOMAS: Well we have become the guiding light in regards to our reservation as to how an organization can be properly managed. Recently we have taken over the head start program, because the national head start office informed our tribe that they could no longer tolerate the poor management of the program. So they turned that program over to us. So we’re taking on more community type efforts on our reservations and one of the areas that we’re moving into is language preservation. Recently we have been doing an emergent program with our head start classes, the 3 and 4 year olds and the 4 and 5 year olds, and we came to a realization that out of probably 600 students in the age group of 4 – 6 that we could only come up with ten kids that could speak the Lakota language. So that’s what at most 1%, probably somewhere between 1% and 2% of that age group are speaking the language which means that 98% are not. And with those type of statistics, it’s quite possible that in 30 or 40 or 50 years we may have no one speaking the language on our reservation. So we see that this is an emergency crisis situation for us in regards to preserving the language. We have recently started a kindergarten class to begin having emergent class in our language and our hope is that we can eventually go to a K-12 school system where in each of the grades there would be a emergent in the language.

JOHN: Sounds like something that’s much needed in your school system. Well I want to thank you for joining us today, Thomas. Would you kindly give your website address for our listening audience?

THOMAS: Yeah, it’s

JOHN: Well we’ve been in the studio with Thomas Short Bull, president of Ogala Lakota College, and you’ve been listening to Sacred Earth Radio. Thomas, once again, thank you for joining us and taking the time out of your busy schedule.

THOMAS: Ok. Thank you.
JOHN: Have a good day everyone.
THOMAS: Ok. See you, goodbye.

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