As we look forward to the 2021 legislative session, the North Dakota Association of Tribal Colleges (NDATC) is uniquely positioned to highlight some of the contributions and challenges of Native Americans in North Dakota today.
First, the good news. Our tribal colleges make a significant contribution to the state’s economy. In fact, NDATC recently released the findings of a tribal college economic impact study, which estimates our annual impact at $145 million.
The study also showed that, for every dollar invested in tribal college education in FY 2018-19, students gain $3.40 in lifetime earnings, taxpayers receive $1.10 in added tax revenue and public sector savings, and society gains $3.40 in added income and reduced need for government services.
Equally important is our impact on individual lives. The five tribal colleges in North Dakota serve about 3,000 Native and non-Native students per year and employ more than 750 faculty and staff members. Certificates and degrees earned by our students pave the way out of poverty for the graduate and future generations. At the same time, tribal college graduates provide the skills needed to meet some of North Dakota’s most urgent workforce demands and advance our economy.
Now, the challenges. One of the biggest obstacles faced by tribal college students and our Native American communities is the stereotypes that have circulated among North Dakotans for many generations.
Please allow me to shed some light on several misconceptions. Here are the facts:
• Indians do not get checks from the federal government each month.
• We do not have free education or health care.
• We’re not all getting rich from oil money or the casinos.
Tribal members pay taxes – just like other North Dakotans. A recent NDATC study showed that 2019 state personal income taxes paid by tribal members totaled more than $49.4 million – or $908 for every man, woman and child. Plus, an estimated 80 percent of salaries and wages is consumed by purchases made off the reservations, resulting in payment of both state and local sales taxes. We help many businesses keep their doors open.
Why draw your attention to these facts right now? We believe there is no better time to educate our fellow North Dakotans about the contributions of Native Americans and our higher education institutions.
As a people, Indians are resourceful, resilient, hopeful and adaptable. We are known for our generosity and desire to serve others. With that in mind, I encourage you to move beyond the stereotypes and
engage in a new conversation based on research and reaching out. The tribal college leaders will welcome you to our campuses, and we invite you to experience first-hand the important role we play in the future of our state.
Cynthia Lindquist is president of Cankdeska Cikana Community College, Fort Totten, and chair of the North Dakota Association of Tribal Colleges.