Evergreen State College Drops BA Degree Plan For Reservation
An innovative program that has successfully helped Native Americans earn bachelor’s degrees on a number of reservations in Washington State backed away from a plan to begin classes in Fort Washakie this fall, when it saw more problems than opportunity on the Wind River Indian Reservation.
That’s one way to look at what happened in a turbulent month on the reservation.
Here’s another way to see it: A grassroots campaign fighting for the self-determination of tribal education convinced the Shoshone Business Council to issue a cease and desist order against the Wind River Development Fund, Evergreen’s local partner. The protests, confusion and political turmoil forced the Olympia, Washington, institution to strike its tent and go home.
There is some truth to both accounts. A committee made up of Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone members agitated fiercely against the Evergreen program. On the first day that Evergreen representatives entertained prospective students on campus, the Eastern Shoshone Business Council delivered a cease-and-desist order to the Wind River Development Fund (WRDF), requiring it to stop the development of the reservation-based baccalaureate program.
WRDF notes the order is a resolution, and said it is unenforceable.
Yet the council contends WRDF overstepped its authority and acted without tribal authorization to make a deal with Evergreen, the order said. The nonprofit “falsely claimed to be an authorized representative of the tribe.”
“I don’t want a bunch of non-Indian outsiders coming in here and developing curriculum for our two tribes,” said Wes Martel, a member of the Eastern Shoshone Business Council. Martel was not entirely happy about the content of the program, but he was genuinely miffed that Evergreen had not consulted with the tribe early in the process.
“When you come in here on a major effort like that without even consulting the tribes, you’re working against us,” Martel said. “When you have a bunch of outsiders trying to drive an issue as important as education, it don’t set too well with our leadership and our educational people.”
Signed and dated March 4, the cease-and-desist order was delivered to the WRDF offices in the Frank B. Wise building in Fort Washakie on March 13, the day the nonprofit first invited potential students for an information session. WRDF went ahead with the session.
Michael Zimmerman, the vice president of academic affairs and provost of Evergreen, then traveled to the reservation to meet with prospective students, his WRDF partners and the tribes. Even after an acrimonious meeting with the Eastern Shoshone Business Council, Zimmerman expressed optimism that the difficulties could be overcome and students would be enrolled in the program. But he changed his mind over the weekend and confirmed Monday, March 31 that he had informed both tribes that his college would not pursue the program.
“Moving forward in an anti-Evergreen and anti-Wind River Development Fund environment would do more harm than good,” said Zimmerman. “I don’t see any alternative for us.”
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