The Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes of Wyoming’s Wind River Reservation will pursue educational goals and tribal business online through a donation of computer equipment and services from Colorado State University’s College of Business.
Ten personal computer systems – five Pentiums and five 486 models – were given to each tribe. In addition, Colorado State students participating in a computer information technology class this fall will conduct on-site technological assessments to determine each tribe’s needs, how best to use existing computer resources and how to plan for future improvements.
Daniel Costello, dean of Colorado State’s College of Business, first met with tribal council members a year ago to look at possible avenues of cooperation. As a result, tribal and Colorado State representatives met recently at the reservation near Lander, Wyo., to explore educational linkages based on an agreement between the university and the two tribes.
Karen McDaniel, diversity coordinator for the business school, said the memorandum of understanding includes, and goes beyond, recruiting students from the reservation. Cooperative projects under discussion will require funding sources but, "I do think there are possibilities," McDaniel said.
Merle Haas, director of Sky People Higher Education Program for the Arapaho tribe, said requests for the computers quickly generated what she hoped will be the first of many donations from various sources. Machines went to the Northern Arapaho Tribal Committee for administrative work and to the education program Haas heads to provide computers for community college students and give them Internet access to financial aid sources.
"Other tribal members are still working with older model typewriters," she said. "There are a few computers around, but a lot of them were outdated and couldn’t be hooked to the Internet. With computers, we could have more cost-effective programs."
The Northern Arapaho could also realize a dream that began to take shape this year: the Wind River Community College in Ethete, Wyo., an institution-in-planning that acting president Burnett Whiteplume hopes can begin offering classes this fall. Four of the machines will be used in the effort to establish the school.
"We’re planning to use computers for training purposes for students," Whiteplume said. "We need to catch up with the rest of the world with our computer technology."
Caroline Mills, Shoshone higher education director, said computers were distributed to a Shoshone-owned nursing home to enable residents to stay in touch with family and friends, and to a tribal construction business, credit program, recreation program and fire station. Two also went to the enrollment office, which determines eligibility for tribal membership.
"This is where Colorado State students will assist in setting up and putting files on computers," Mills said. "They will be looking at putting information into a data base. Right now, to check records, our staff is looking through paper files stored in folders."
With additional equipment donations, Mills said, "Down the road, we hope to connect computers so that people can e-mail rather than phone each other or try to gather everyone together in one place for a meeting.
"We’re also looking to Colorado State for computer education. There’s a big interest among tribal members in basic computer classes. Kids learn about them in school, while the older people are a little scared but interested."
Mills said the Shoshone eventually want to offer their own computer classes for adults and provide computers for students taking classes at a community college 35 miles away.
"Everyone is real pleased that they’ve got some decent equipment," she said.
McDaniel, of Colorado State’s business college, said university representatives learned that the opportunities that exist are not traditional ones.
"We have a distance master’s program that could be delivered on the reservation, and I think we’ll be looking at distance education programs that would fit their requirements perhaps better than trying to recruit large numbers of students" to the Fort Collins campus, she said.
"I think there are distance education relationships that could be implemented, interns who could be exchanged and faculty sabbaticals that could address tribal needs, and I believe we could have an impact on the community college if it gets started."
The computer donation goes beyond the material goods and helps develop a relationship that benefits Colorado State, the Arapaho and Shoshone, said Darwin St. Clair Jr., a Shoshone, Colorado State graduate and academic adviser at the university.
About five years ago, as assistant director of Native American Student Services, St. Clair set up a summer camp that brought fourth through sixth graders to the Fort Collins campus. The aim was to establish community, communication and familiarity, "so that Colorado State isn’t ‘way out there,’" he said.
"Instead, it’s a place you’ve been to and know, and there’s an established relationship with the University and with the tribes."
A group of some dozen students in grades four through six from the reservation will visit Colorado State’s main and Pingree Park campuses July 12-18. Both tribes would like to see what St. Clair calls the "pipeline" extended to older students
"Colorado State can be Wind River tribes’ gate to the world," St. Clair said. "Any university can do that, but Colorado State really has that potential."
"This College of Business initiative is making Colorado State look very good in the eyes of our tribe," he said.
New computers are purchased by Colorado State students through technology fees for use in computer laboratory facilities in the business school’s Rockwell Hall. Some older but still useful models are refurbished and given away every few years, said business school information technology manager Robert Cermak.
An additional 10 refurbished computers were given to Pawnee School of the RE12 School District in Grover, a small town 40 miles northeast of Fort Collins.