In the fall of 1969 I received a call from Taos Pueblo merchant and civic leader John Rainer, asking if I would serve on the Board of Directors of a new organization he was putting together, American Indian Scholarships, Inc. The organization was to receive funds from the Indian Education division of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and to seek and evaluate scholarship applications from American Indian students in graduate school, and to fund worthy applicants.
I readily agreed to serve, for John Rainer was a good friend and the program seemed to be a great cause. At the time I was at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, helping to set up a program to help stem a high dropout rate among Indian students there. I was also working to put together the new American Indian Press Association and to raise funds for its administration.
My first meeting of the AIS board was memorable for me, for I found myself in a virtual Who’s Who of Indian scholars and leaders. A few of them, besides John Rainer, I had met earlier – Lucy Covington, Ada Deer, and Leah Manning, three of the most outstanding women in Indian affairs, ever. I had also met Bob Bennett (Oneida), past Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and one of the incorporators of the new organization.
The others were well known names in Indian affairs at the time, but I had not known them personally: Joe Sando of Jemez Pueblo, Dr. David Warren of Santa Clara Pueblo, and Overton James, long-time Governor of the Chickasaw nation of Oklahoma.
Earlier that year I had worked with Lucy Covington in her campaign to unseat the Colville Tribe’s council, which favored the plans of the federal government to terminate them; so I knew her quite well, and had the greatest respect for her. Likewise with Ada Deer in her fight to get the termination of the Menominee Tribe reversed and her tribe restored to federal trust status. I first met Ada at a special activism workshop in New York City in mid-1956, and later spoke for her cause at a rally in Wisconsin.
Leah Manning and her husband Arthur, both of the Shoshone-Paiute of Nevada, I had met at conventions of the National Congress of American Indians, and had learned about her outstanding work in the field of sociology, especially Child Welfare. A gentle, well- educated and elegant woman, she was also an expert on her tribal culture, and was a traditional singer and story-teller. Along with her daughter Tina and a grandchild, Leah perished in a house fire in 1979.
Joe Sando I recall as a gentle person with a rich background in cultural research and preservation among the Pueblo peoples, including directorship of the Institute of Pueblo Study and Research at the Pueblo Indian Cultural Center in Albuquerque. He authored several books on Pueblo history and cultures.
Dave Warren I had always seen as sophisticated and scholarly, yet down to earth and friendly. He had risen in stature in the days when many young people were coming onto the scene in Indian affairs, many of them activists in the ranks of the National Indian Youth Council. I had heard much about him and was eager to meet him, and to this day I consider him one of the outstanding leaders in my experience in Indian affairs. He had served many years as Director of the Center for Cultural Studies and Research in the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, and later on the Board of the National Endowment for the Humanities and as Deputy Director of the National Museum of the American Indian.
I had met Overton James at the National Congress of American Indians and had heard much about his leadership among the Five Civilized Tribes in Oklahoma. He was well into his first term as Governor of the Chickasaw Nation when he came onto the Board of AIC, Inc., and would serve as Governor for another 18 years beyond. He served as president of the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes, president of the Choctaw-Chickasaw Confederation, chairman of the State Indian Affairs Commission, trustee of the National Indian Athletic Hall of Fame, the National Council on Indian Opportunity, and the National Congress of American Indians.
Forty three years after it began, American Indian Scholarships, Inc. is now the American Indian Graduate Center, and over those years AIGC has disbursed more than 15,000 graduate fellowships with the support of the Bureau of Indian Education, corporate and foundation partnerships, and alumni and private donors.
Sam Deloria, the current Director of AIGC, is a forward-thinking man but always is looking back with his hand extended, helping younger people on their way up. As Director of the American Indian Law Center, he helped launch several generations of Indian lawyers on their way through their studies to careers in protecting Indian rights, and advancing tribal governance.
I have been privileged to have served with these great leaders who started the American Indian Graduate Center, and those who keep it alive and growing. They have enriched my life and inspired me over many years.
Charles "Chuck" Trimble, was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian
Reservation, and is a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation. He was principal
founder of the American Indian Press Association in 1970, and served as
Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians from 1972-1978.
He is retired and lives in Omaha, NE. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
and his website is www.iktomisweb.com.
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