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Tribal College Journal gives voice to Native American higher ed

Mancos-based publication recounts news from tribal college movement

The voice of the national tribal college movement speaks out from Mancos.

The Tribal College Journal has been around since 1989, recounting the news of tribal college students and institutions from across the country. It’s ideally located in Mancos, near at least four tribal colleges in the Four Corners, but the quarterly publication has a wider reach from a federal penitentiary in Florida to the northern coast of Alaska.

“What we often tell people is that the Tribal College Journal is telling the world how tribal colleges are changing the face of Indian Country through the voices of educators, students and the tribal community,” said publisher Rachael Marchbanks.

Tribal colleges, which became established in the late 1960s, are chartered by tribal governments “to provide higher education opportunities to American Indians through programs that are locally and culturally based, holistic and supportive,” says the American Indian Higher Education Consortium.

They serve a local Native American need and are truly “community colleges,” said Bradley Shreve, editor of the Tribal College Journal and a former teacher at Diné College on the Navajo Nation.

“They are often the heart of the tribal communities where they’re situated, and they’re places where community members can gather, where they can attend lectures, they can go to the cafeteria,” he said. “They can use the library. Sometimes that’s the only place within the community where ... they can gather with other people in the local community.”

Diné College led the way in the tribal college movement when it was established in 1968. Once a few others followed suit, the sites joined together and in 1973 formed the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, which serves to accredit, fund and advocate for tribal colleges across the United States.

About 37 tribal colleges and universities are part of the AIHEC. All offer associate degrees, and some offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Tribal colleges often are able to better cater to nontraditional students.

“Sometimes they have very small enrollment,” Shreve said. “But they definitely serve a need in communities where access to higher education is limited and sometimes can be difficult.”

Back in the late 1980s, Paul Boyer, a journalism school graduate from Sacramento, traveled across the nation, visiting tribal colleges and filing reports for his father, who was president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

The trip sparked an idea.

“Tribal colleges represented a new educational movement, yet administrators and faculty knew very little about the work of their counterparts on other reservations,” Boyer wrote in a 2014 article in the Tribal College Journal. “In these pre-internet days, the colleges didn’t even sponsor a newsletter. When Lionel Bordeaux, president of Sinte Gleska University, acknowledged that they needed a magazine but didn’t have the people or funding to create one, I sensed an opportunity.”

The first editions of the magazine were somewhat rough, Boyer recalled, and perhaps reflective of the formative years of the tribal colleges themselves. He designed the initial versions on an early Macintosh computer and mailed black-and-white copies from his Sacramento home.

The Journal was well-received, though, leading the AIHEC and American Indian College Fund to provide funding. The magazine was and is diverse in content, containing news about the tribal college movement and institutions, but also academic articles and creative writings from students attending the colleges.

The Tribal College Journal has a small staff, although its writers and artists come from tribal colleges across the nation. Pictured here from left to right are publisher Rachael Marchbanks and Marvene Tom, advertising coordinator and subscriptions manager.

“We publish research that has been generated either from the tribal colleges or about the tribal colleges,” Marchbanks said. “It’s more of an academic tone but also journalistic-style articles and some news items about the tribal colleges.”

In summer 1991, Boyer moved the office to Chestertown, Maryland, much closer to the AIHEC office in Washington, D.C. But it would migrate again when in 1995 Boyer announced his resignation as editor, passing the baton to Marjane Ambler, who had moved to Mancos.

Mancos proved an ideal spot for the magazine, because it was close to several reservations and indigenous communities, along with some tribal colleges in northern New Mexico and Arizona .

“We’re well-positioned as far as in the southwestern United States as being closer to those tribal colleges,” Marchbanks said.

The Journal has continued to grow, although its staff remains small. Editors and managers have come and gone, and official positions have changed as well. The publication is now essentially a three-person operation – Shreve, Marchbanks and Marvene Tom, advertising coordinator and subscriptions manager, who is Navajo (or Diné) herself. Writers come mostly from the colleges.

For the Journal’s layout, they settled on Nakota Designs, founded by Walt Pourier. Art has become a crucial component of the magazine for many subscribers.

“They like the covers that we pick for each of the magazines,” Tom said. “Sometimes they would ask us if we have notecards or postcards of some of the covers that we have on the magazines that we’re selling.”

When figuring out cover designs, they try to embody the issue’s theme while highlighting the voices and work coming out of tribal colleges.

“For example, this last issue was on indigenous STEM,” Shreve said. “So our cover was an image of a petroglyph of a supernova remnant from Chaco Canyon.” For a recent edition on tribal college women, they featured a painting by Charlene Teters, dean at the Institute of American Indian Arts.

All the tribal colleges receive copies, along with other mainstream institutions and individuals interested in Native American issues – not just in the U.S., but also in Norway, New Zealand, Australia and Canada.

Bradley Shreve, a Diné College professor and author, took over as Tribal College Journal editor in 2013.

“Tribal colleges in the grand scheme of things are part of this larger, global indigenous movement,” Shreve said. AIHEC was instrumental in forming the World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium in 2002.

Famed activist Leonard Peltier is another subscriber. Peltier, a member of the American Indian Movement, was convicted for the 1975 deaths of two FBI agents during a shootout on the Pine River Reservation in South Dakota. He is being held in the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Florida.

“We have about three subscribers that actually buy his subscriptions for him,” Tom said.

They’ve found a “niche” for advertisers looking to reach Native communities, although they face challenges of a digital media world. But has a niche publication, they attract advertisers who have trouble reaching their desired audience any other way, Marchbanks said.

And although they have a strong online presence, print is still crucial for many of their readers.

“Folks in the broader world may not realize that there are still internet connectivity issues in rural areas, like where reservations are located, and up in Barrow, Alaska, where one of our tribal colleges is,” Marchbanks said. “Our print magazine is still a welcome resource there.”