Tribal Colleges Build Storytelling Capacity to Increase Visibility
September 29, 2022, Denver, Colo.— Tribal colleges and universities are at the forefront of educating and training Indigenous people for future jobs and leadership positions that serve Native communities. In addition, many have innovative curriculums and immersion strategies for cultural and language revitalization.
Cheryl Crazy Bull, President and CEO of the American Indian College Fund, a national non-profit organization that provides scholarships to tribal college students and support for the institutions, says each of the 35 accredited TCUs serving Native communities holds countless stories of exceptional students, faculty, and programs that made significant contributions and impacts in tribal communities. But, due to limited funding and resources, most of those stories aren’t heard at the local and regional levels.
“We work closely with college presidents and faculty who wish they could do more but are stretched thin across various programs, departments, and initiatives,” said Crazy Bull. “As federally funded institutions, TCUs are often limited in their ability to put resources toward increasing visibility through marketing and communications. Consequently, the TCUs miss opportunities to attract new students and build momentum toward their strategic goals.”
In response to the need for greater communications outreach at TCUs, the American Indian College Fund (the College Fund) initiated a one-year pilot project to build communications capacity and visibility for TCUs. In November 2021, the College Fund moved forward with the project and selected a limited number of TCUs to participate, including:
- College of Menominee Nation, Keshena and Green Bay, Wis.
- College of the Muscogee Nation, Okmulgee, Okla.
- Cankdeska Cikana Community College, Fort Totten, N.D.
The project provided these TCUs with outside consulting and support to build internal resources and the talents of existing staff using communications plans, templates, training, and implementing best practices to boost media coverage of the work they are doing.
Over the past few months, TCU presidents learned how to build support and strategic partnerships throughout their communities, states, and broader regions by creating greater public awareness and understanding of their work and its positive impact. They also learned how TCUs could expand their roles in developing the economy and workforce in tribal communities and society.
“This project was necessary, because visibility and representation are so important to Native people’s opportunity to live prosperous and healthy lives,” said Crazy Bull. “The College Fund appreciates being able to support tribal colleges and universities so they can promote their own visibility. Their visibility opens doors to education for Native students and increases tribal college contributions to local and regional opportunities.”
Celebrating Tribal Colleges and Universities Through Storytelling
One of the more attractive features of the visibility project was the benefit of outside consultants to help identify and develop several stories for each TCU and pitch them to the media outlets in their service areas. When done correctly, great stories can reverberate across time and space to reach and influence target audiences.
The College of Menominee Nation took the opportunity to announce its 30th anniversary in conjunction with the tribe’s 50th anniversary of restoring its status as a federally recognized tribe.
“We wanted to highlight the significance and relationship between the two anniversaries, which is our theme for 2023, Restoring Nations Through Education,” said College of Menominee Nation President Christopher Caldwell. “Through education, the Menominee Nation is restoring all it lost during the era when the United States government sought to eradicate Indigenous culture. We are thankful for the support in telling our foundation story and announcing our upcoming anniversary.”
The College of the Muscogee Nation also looks to restore aspects of the Mvskoke culture and took the opportunity to announce its new certificate program in tribal leadership.
“We are extremely proud to bring a specialized curriculum centered on Native American cultural values to the forefront of academics,” said College of the Muscogee Nation President Dr. Monte Randall. “Having the story development support has been invaluable for us in raising awareness of our innovative programs. Also, the training provided us with critical guidance for developing our internal public relations capacity.”
Finally, the release of a new book about traditional Dakota place names caught the interest of many media outlets.
“Mniwakan: Place Names and History of the Spirit Lake Dakota” is a tribute to the Spirit Lake Tribe’s oral traditions and tribal history,” said Cankdeska Cikana Community College President Dr. Cynthia Lindquist. “The book was a huge effort from faculty and other partners. The visibility project supported the successful [book] release and garnered many inquiries by media outlets.”
All in all, the pilot project was successful. The College Fund will continue the project with a new cohort of TCUs in November 2022. All current and past cohort participants will continue to receive support through a newly created online resource center where they can access plans, training, templates, and best communications practices to enhance visibility.
About the American Indian College Fund—The American Indian College Fund has been the nation’s largest charity supporting Native higher education for 33 years. The College Fund believes “Education is the answer” and provided $15.5 million in scholarships and other direct student support to American Indian students in 2020-21. Since its founding in 1989 the College Fund has provided more than $259 million in scholarships, programmatic and community support. The College Fund also supports a variety of academic and support programs at the nation’s 35 accredited tribal colleges and universities, which are located on or near Indian reservations, ensuring students have the tools to graduate and succeed in their careers. The College Fund consistently receives top ratings from independent charity evaluators and is one of the nation’s top 100 charities named to the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance. For more information about the American Indian College Fund, please visit www.collegefund.org.
Journalists—The American Indian College Fund does not use the acronym AICF. On second reference, please use the College Fund.