The leadership and staff of the American Indian College Fund were saddened to hear of the passing of Dr. David M. Gipp Wicahpi Isnala, Lone Star, a citizen of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the former President and Chancellor of United Tribes Technical College (UTTC), a tribal college, in Bismarck, North Dakota.
Dr. Gipp worked with and served on the board of UTTC during its founding days from 1969-1972 and was president for more than 35 years, from 1977 until his retirement. UTTC is an intertribal education model founded by the Five Tribes located in part or all of North Dakota and their leaders in the late 1960s. It serves, on average, more than 1,100 adults as well as around 500 children at its three early childhood centers and K-8 elementary school. UTTC is one of the most unique educational models in the country, serving many diverse tribes, at a centralized location.
Dr. Gipp was founder of the tribally controlled education movement. His extensive background in higher education, and career and technical education provided the foundation for his influence in higher education policy and legislation. He was instrumental in developing the first national legislation (in 1978) to assist “tribally controlled community colleges and universities.” His entire career was dedicated to the development of TCUs and advocating for Native people and education.
In addition to his work at UTTC, Dr. Gipp was a founding member of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC), the American Indian College Fund’s parent organization. He was one of the first AIHEC employees serving as executive director in the early 1970s and was an active member of the College Fund’s Board of Trustees, serving in a variety of leadership roles for 13 terms for nearly 30 years. His last role, after retiring from the Board of Trustees, was as Emeritus Trustee, an honor bestowed upon him in 2014.
The American Indian College Fund presented Dr. Gipp with its 2013 Tribal College Leader Award in honor of his lifelong dedication to the tribal college movement, American Indian and Alaska Native students, and education equity. Dr. Gipp’s brilliant mind and exhaustive memory of the founding days of Native higher education, combined with his kindness, made him a role model, friend, and mentor to many.
Cheryl Crazy Bull, President and CEO of the American Indian College Fund, said, “Dave’s death is a heartbreaking loss for Indian country and higher education. He was a champion for tribal sovereignty and believed deeply in the intelligence and talents of indigenous people. Dave wholeheartedly believed that we are the stewards of our own destiny. I will always remember Dave’s passion for our work as educators. The College Fund Board, staff, and the students we support are saddened by his passing but also lifted up by our belief in the Creator’s gift—a joyful reunion with loved ones when our spirit travels on the sacred road. We know Dave joins his relatives and is happy. Dave shared many powerful words in his lifetime. I would like to note his remarks at the 2008 Democratic Convention, where he said, ‘We can only renew America’s promise when the First Americans are legitimate participants in framing the future of this Country.’ We continue to set our sights on our legitimate participation in the future in his honor.”
Dr. Gipp said at a meeting of the founders for the American Indian College Fund’s 25th anniversary in 2014, “We do not forget the pitiful. The poor. The unsika ones. That’s why we began this effort in the first place. Because we offer something to students, and we still do, something that they could not get from mainstream institutions…we are there at the forefront to serve those in need first.” Dr. Gipp’s memory will live on through his work to provide a higher education for Native people, helping them to create better futures for themselves, their families, and their communities.
In honor of Dr. Gipp’s legacy, the American Indian College Fund is creating an endowed scholarship for TCU students. If you would like to contribute, please make your donation here.