Revised memoranda of understanding (MOU) between the University of Wyoming and the Tribes of the Wind River Reservation have set the stage for new levels of collaboration for the benefit of Native students and communities and the state’s university.
The agreements were signed by UW President Ed Seidel, Eastern Shoshone Business Council Chairman John St. Clair and Northern Arapaho Business Council Chairman Jordan Dresser during a ceremony at the Wind River Hotel and Casino Wednesday night. The event capped a two-day visit by a UW delegation led by Seidel and Vice President for Student Affairs Kim Chestnut — also UW’s interim vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion — to meet with leaders and members of the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes.
“We had a wonderful two days of mostly listening about the needs of these Native communities and how Wyoming’s university can develop stronger partnerships with them,” Seidel says. “We’re excited about the revised MOUs, which represent an enhanced commitment on the part of UW and of the tribes to work together for the betterment of their people, the university and the state. This is just the beginning of sustained engagement.”
“This MOU between the Northern Arapaho Tribe and the University of Wyoming is an act of good faith, (with) the idea we’re going to collaborate for future projects — and also that we’re going to help create a path for our students to be successful,” says Dresser, a UW graduate and documentary filmmaker.
“Overall, it’s a good agreement between the university and the tribe to develop resources to help our students while they’re in school,” says St. Clair, also a UW graduate who helped established the Keepers of the Fire Native student organization as a student in the 1970s.
The memoranda detail the commitment of the university and the tribes to work together on research, education and training programs for Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho students; build resources to assist Native students, tribes, educators and professionals; and conduct research of importance to the tribes. The memoranda also commit to continue programs including UW’s Native American and Indigenous Studies Program; the High Plains American Indian Research Institute (HPAIRI); the Native American Summer Institute; and the Native American Education, Research and Cultural Center (NAERCC).
The memoranda also maintain UW’s Native American Affairs Advisory Committee, composed of UW faculty, staff and alumni to advise the president on recruitment, retention and graduation of Native students. That group now includes the tribal liaisons from Gov. Mark Gordon’s office — Cy Lee (Northern Arapaho) and Lee Tendore (Eastern Shoshone) — who will serve as a resource between the university and the tribes.
During the visit, UW’s delegation met separately with the two tribal business councils; conducted an evening community listening session at Central Wyoming College; and met with K-12 leaders at the Fort Washakie, Wyoming Indian and Arapahoe school districts, as well as St. Stephens Indian School. The trip was coordinated by Reinette Curry, a Northern Arapaho member who is the program director of the NAERCC under UW’s Center for Student Involvement and Leadership and also part of UW’s Multicultural Affairs team.
“A lot of great things were accomplished on this trip to the Wind River reservation,” says Curry, a Wyoming Indian High School graduate who holds two degrees from UW and has been instrumental in growing Native student enrollment at the university. “We were able to hear our community’s voices. We were able to sit back, listen and take notes as to what we need to work on and things we can do to improve our relationship with the tribes and our tribal communities.”
Numerous speakers during the meetings said the NAERCC, opened in 2017 on the UW campus, represents a significant increase in support for Native students compared to when the speakers attended UW. They noted the difficulty many Native students face when they leave the reservation and how the center provides a sense of community and belonging. To recruit more Native students to UW, speakers suggested more visits from current UW students; more opportunities for students on the reservation to visit UW’s campus; promoting higher education to students at younger ages; more financial assistance; and a mentorship program for students. All speakers stressed the importance of higher education for tribal communities.
UW leaders are making plans to return to the reservation for further discussions on priorities and how to implement changes.
Also representing UW were Ryan O’Neil, associate vice president and dean of students; James Trosper, director of HPAIRI; Penelope Shihab, director of UW’s Wyoming Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation; Jill Keith, an assistant professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences; Chad Baldwin, associate vice president for marketing and communications; and videographer Ali Grossman. Student interns from the NAERCC — Journey Lebeau and Juwan Willow — helped Curry plan and execute the visit and Wednesday’s MOU signing ceremony.
In addition to the business council chairmen, participating in the signing ceremony were Northern Arapaho Business Council members Kim Harjo and Boniface Ridgley and Eastern Shoshone Business Council members Gloria St. Clair, Mike Ute and Starr Weed Jr.