by Catherine Wtyong / the Times-Standard
Members of the Yurok and other local tribes rallied on Humboldt State University campus Friday afternoon to address potential program cuts of Native American studies.
”This is Humboldt State. This is where we live,” Yurok Tribal Council Member and HSU alumnus David Genshaw Sr. said. “This is where we want our children, our grandchildren and future generations to learn.”
According to a press release, in summer 2011, the Northern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association and HSU formed a work group, consisting of six tribal representatives and six university officials appointed by HSU President Rollin Richmond.
The NCTCA, according to the release, is comprised of the leaders of 11 tribal nations and represents nearly half of all Native Americans in the state. It advocates for Native American issues at the local, state and federal level.
Richmond charged the group with reallocating the existing $1.1 million budget for Native American programs by restructuring them with a focus on student success, student support and community outreach programs, according to the release.
The main programs at risk — some of which have been operating for more than 25 years — include the Indian Tribal Education Personnel Program; the Indian Natural Resources, Science and Engineering Program; the Center for Indian Community Development and the Office for Indian Economic Development and Community Development, according to the release.
Lorraine Taggart, a member of the Yurok Tribe and administrative support coordinator for HSU’s Department of Social Work, said there are only two tenure-track faculty members for the Native American studies department.
”It’s hard to serve all the students,” she said. “They are leaving. They are dropping out.”
Genshaw, 58, said he got his bachelor’s degree in Native American studies with a minor in natural resources in 2008 and was a part of the Indian Natural Resources, Science and Engineering Program during all nine years of his enrollment.
”When I went to HSU the Native American studies program was at its peak,” he said. “We had many students from all over the U.S., not just from California.”
Genshaw said right now, students come to HSU for the Native American education program, but quickly drop out when they find out parts of it have been cut. “So word gets around. ‘Don’t go to HSU.’”
He added that education is an important part of who Native Americans are. “We have our rights as sovereign nations, and our students need to know and understand that.”
Yurok Education Department Director Jim McQuillen said the protest was to support HSU’s adoption of the recommendations put forth by the work group.
”I’m glad to see a cross-section of students, faculty, staff and community members here today,” McQuillen said. “We’re just hoping to bring attention to the issue. There is still time to correct it.”
According to the release, the work group spent more than a thousand hours reorganizing the programs — complete with new job classifications and an organizational chart. Within the new plan, the group also made several recommendations: consolidating existing services, creating a tribal liaison position, providing more recruitment and support services for Native American students and putting all the programs under one roof.
Thomas P. O’Rourke Sr., chairman of the Yurok Tribe and vice chairman of the NCTCA, said the worry is that the programs will be merged together instead of grouped together.
HSU spokesman Paul Mann said the work group did not reach a consensus on a recommendation, and on March 11, the university chose to “break open the issue” and begin a systematic review of all support programs on campus.
He said the reason for the review is to improve student success on campus in regards to retention and graduation rates.
”What is sacrosanct here is the success of the students, not the programs,” Mann said. “If we need to restructure, reorganize or replace programs to do that, then we will. That’s what good governance is all about. Adjust, adjust, adjust.”
Mann added that consolidation is still up in the air, and the review should be completed around July 1. Until then, he said, nothing has been decided.
Genshaw said he feels the school is undermining Native American education, despite HSU being surrounded by tribes.
”It weakens, and then it’s gone, and we’re in a recession,” Genshaw said. “We want to anchor down what we have now so when the money comes back, we can build from what is left. We’re here for the long run, for the students that aren’t born yet.”