In late April, colleagues from the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) and I, had the unique opportunity to spend a week traveling across Arizona, visiting San Carlos Apache College, Diné College, and Tohono O’odham Community College. We were fortunate to be able to work with our partners at each college to arrange meetings, tours, and listening sessions. The goal of this trip was to establish new connections and continue growing relationships with tribal college leadership and faculty. As someone who is relatively new to the Tribal college movement, this trip provided valuable insight into the amazing work being done at Tribal colleges!
We began our journey at San Carlos Apache College, located on the San Carlos Apache Reservation, where we were welcomed by leadership, faculty and staff. Our group discussed some of the college’s achievements, their priorities, and some goals for the future. San Carlos Apache College has experienced tremendous growth in the past few years, with their student population doubling in the last year! They offer online and evening classes, making them highly accessible to the San Carlos Apache community and students from other Tribal Nations across the country. They are also expanding in the physical sense, with a new STEM classroom and library in the works.
Some of their priorities include expanding their STEM capacity, incorporating Apache language and culture into their curriculum, supporting traditional foods and food sovereignty, and working to ‘Indigenize' higher education as a whole. In the future, the college would like to become more involved in research, and are looking forward to opportunities to be in the ‘driver’s seat’ when collaborating with larger institutions. Underlying this are their guiding principles of ‘thinking 7 generations ahead’ and upholding the Seven Rs - Respect, Relevancy, Reciprocity, Responsibility, Rights, Reconciliation, and Relationship.
Tour of San Carlos Apache College - San Carlos, AZ
After our visit with San Carlos Apache College, we headed to the Navajo Nation to visit Diné College in Tsaile, AZ. We met with the director and extension specialist from the Land Grant Extension Office and were given an overview of the history of Diné College, the present status of the college, and some of their future goals. Diné College has developed amazing Land Grant Extension and STEM programs, focusing on research, outreach and service learning. Some of their current initiatives include upholding food sovereignty, supporting dryland farming efforts, and encouraging youth engagement through activities like youth agriculture camps and 4-H youth programs. The Land Grant program is currently working on establishing a certified kitchen, along with other infrastructure to support their efforts related to food sovereignty and food security.
After our meeting, we were given a tour of the Diné College main campus and the Land Grant Extension Office. The design of the college is very intentional, with several buildings at the main campus modeled after hogans, which are the traditional Diné homes. The Land Grant Office has recently invested in new greenhouses, where they grow food that supplements the dining hall. They’ve also developed a portable water filtration system and have installed solar powered irrigation. To conclude our visit, we were taken out into the community to visit the Upper and Lower Wheatfields. It was powerful to see how Diné culture is incorporated into every aspect of the college - from the curriculum, to the building design, to the projects the Land Grant program is working on. As we were heading to our next destination, we had the chance to take a quick detour to Canyon de Chelly and stop at several overlooks.
Tour of Diné College Land Grant Extension Office - Tsaile, AZ
Canyon de Chelly - Chinle, AZ
The last stop of our journey was Tohono O’odham Community College (TOCC), located in Sells, AZ on the Tohono O’odham Nation. We met with college leadership, STEM faculty, and Land Grant Extension Office staff to discuss some of their ongoing initiatives and goals they are working towards. TOCC has committed to including climate change in their strategic planning and are looking into ways to further support climate resilience at their campus, and more broadly throughout the Tohono O’odham Community.
Some of their current initiatives include incorporating solar around the campus, integrating rainwater harvesting techniques into the landscaping, which will also be used in teaching, and developing an O’odham plant identification app. This app works off of QR code markers around campus that people can scan with their phones and learn about the O’odham names of plants, as well as traditional plant information. TOCC is also focusing on workforce and community development, and is working on creating a solar training course for TOCC students and Tohono O’odham Tribal members. In addition to this, they are also developing a dedicated O’odham language center.
Following our initial meeting, we toured the main campus, saw solar projects, future rainwater harvesting sites, native plants, STEM classrooms, and the library. We were also welcomed by the Land Grant Extension office, where we were fortunate to have lunch consisting of traditional O’odham foods like bawĭ (tepary beans), h:uñ (60-day corn), and h:al (squash) all grown at the extension farm! The Land Grant team gave a brief presentation on the history of the TOCC extension office, projects they’re working on, and the crops they plant. We were also given a tour of their fields, where they have been planting since 2008. The Land Grant team is working to uphold O’odham food sovereignty, ensure the purity of O’odham seeds, and implement measures to support climate resilience.
Tour of Tohono O’odham Community College main campus and Land Grant Extension Farm
It was so meaningful to be able to share space with incredible Tribal college leadership, faculty and staff who are working hard to ensure the success of their students and colleges. Each of our hosts were so generous in sharing about their work, communities and cultures. I look forward to continuing to build my relationships with San Carlos Apache College, Diné College and Tohono O’odham Community College, and to visit again soon!