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Mar 17, 2014 5:00 PM by Victoria Fregoso - Q2 News

Tribal college conference a place to build friendships, maintain culture

BILLINGS - A combination of students, faculty and board members from 37 tribal colleges have filled the Montana Convention Center in Billings in recent days.

Monday was day three of the four-day American Indian Higher Education Consortium Conference.

"I think there are a lot of friendships that are made here, a lot of interaction between the students, a lot of interaction between teachers and administrators," said Richard Little Bear, president of Chief Dull Knife College on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Lame Deer.

During the conference, attendees heard from a variety of key note speakers, including Tuff Harris, a former NFL player and member of the Crow Tribe, along with Richard Williams, former CEO of the American Indian College Fund.

Students were also given the opportunity to showcase their intelligence and talent through competitions ranging from traditional hand games to a knowledge bowl.

"One of the things that tribal colleges try to do is maintain and foster our own cultures and languages and this is the way to do that," Little Bear said.

President of Blackfeet Community College, Dr. Billie Kipp, said the conference offers students some healthy competition.

"The infusion of culture and language in this conference is extremely important," Kipp said. "We also do those things that are important to our culture and language. That's why they (our students) come to tribal colleges. They want the best of both worlds and through tribal colleges, that's what they receive."

This is only the second time the conference has been hosted in Montana. It took the state's seven tribal colleges a year to plan for the conference.

"We want to showcase Montana the best," Kipp said. "We want the Montana tribes to provide the best accommodations, the best competition and the best experience for our tribal colleges that come across the nation to convene once a year."

All seven tribal colleges are fully accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. Little Bear said the public often has the misconception that tribal colleges don't have the proper credentials.

"So many times tribal colleges get strife because people tend to look at them and say their curricula are deluded," Little Bear said. "We undergo the same rigorous accreditation process that the University of Montana and Montana State University systems have to undergo. We are very good and very economical institutions."

The conference will wrap up on Tuesday night with an awards banquet and entertainment by the 1491's, a Native American comedy group from Minnesota and Oklahoma.

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