DSU partners with Three Affiliated Tribes

Dickinson State University's ongoing effort to improve economic development in southwestern North Dakota has reached a new peak. During the Lewis and Clark signature event in New Town a couple of weeks ago, DSU President Dr. Lee Vickers signed th...

Dickinson State University's ongoing effort to improve economic development in southwestern North Dakota has reached a new peak.

During the Lewis and Clark signature event in New Town a couple of weeks ago, DSU President Dr. Lee Vickers signed the university's first partnership with the Three Affiliated Tribes' and Tribal Chairman Tex Hall.

"It's a matter of making a special effort to include the Native American community," Vickers said. "(We're) intentionally reaching out to the Native American community in things we're already doing."

The first step in the partnership is offering the entrepreneurship certificate through the Interactive Video Network to people in New Town.

"As of (Thursday), we have 15 students signed up to participate in that program," Vickers said.


In the words of Hall and Vickers, the partnership is an ideal relationship.

"I really believe in forming coalitions and partnerships," Hall said. "It makes us stronger. Why can't we form a rural chamber of commerce? Of course there's strength in numbers. The answers are within our own selves. The old adage of waiting for an expert doesn't seem to work."

Although the initial steps are now under way, the partnership was a long time in the making.

About four or five years ago, Vickers and Hall started discussions during a population symposium. Then, it wasn't until this past spring that things started to gain momentum. In April, Hall was invited to speak at the Entrepreneuring in North Dakota Conference at DSU.

"When I was asked to speak, I was quite honored," Hall said. "More importantly, I was excited by the possibilities. Dr. Vickers seemed to want to do things."

Identifying the need for change goes back even further for both men.

Since Vickers' arrival in Dickinson, he has worked with other community members to make entrepreneurship a common word in the region. Hall has spent years creating a 25-year plan for the three tribes involving entrepreneuring opportunities.

"I've been thinking about (the long-term plan) for a few years," Hall said. "Then, it was about that time I saw the concern for rural communities, and it seemed Dickinson wanted to do things."


Just what those things were came together during a brainstorming session of both parties just longer than a month ago.

"We're simply following up on a series of conversations," Vickers said.

Vickers said the meeting allowed them to assist Hall in an effort to provide youth with a quality education on their end and at the same time capitalize on their growing population and creative skills.

"We identified eight different areas we would like to work on," Vickers said. "We talked about involving Chairman Hall and his representatives in a variety of think thank activities, whereby we would identify a topic relevant for this region of North Dakota."

Interesting dilemma

In terms of economic development, southwestern North Dakota is in a unique situation. Whereas in many other places, politicians would do well to speak of increasing jobs, here the bigger task is creating people to fill the available jobs.

Between the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribes, they have a similar problem as everywhere else - a lack of jobs. Less than 100 miles apart, the economic development situation is completely different for each.

The TAT population also is growing rapidly. Hall estimates the student population has jumped from about 500 to about 800 in only 20 years.


"None of our schools are declining in population," Hall said.

Since the population is growing, Hall said the tribes have the challenge of finding more, and more meaningful, jobs for their people.

Stark County alone, on the other hand, has nearly 1,000 jobs available. When nearby communities are added into the mix, the number jumps to about 1,200.

One area where Vickers and Hall know there are plenty of opportunities is in the tourism industry, specifically heritage tourism.

"Look at Montana, at the Custer site," Vickers said. "Certainly, here at New Town, we ought not to just have the focus on the signature event. We should have a focus on heritage tourism on an ongoing basis. We're excited about being a part of that."

Turning up the heat

Vickers and Hall had ideas on economic development in the region, and they were headed in the same direction.

"There's no reason we can't use all of southwestern North Dakota," Hall said. "We definitely want to focus on small towns, because that's what we are here (in New Town). We put our ideas from the back burner to the front burner. The ideas were already cooking. We just needed to turn up heat. Of course, the partnership was a natural fit. Dr. Vickers clearly has a vision as well. He wants the college to continue to grow."


While future programs such as the 2+2 e-scholars program will help students at the Fort Berthold Community College transfer more seamlessly to DSU and earn their four-year degree, Vickers said the motivation is more than increasing enrollment.

"In all fairness, that's not the motivation," Vickers said. "The motive is to serve the people of North Dakota. We think we have a tremendous asset in Native American people. We have to make a more comprehensive effort to serve that portion of the North Dakota population."

Some of those assets include utilizing the methods the tribal members use in many of the state's focus areas for economic development. Hall said the tribes are developing an oil and gas refinery, a natural beef and buffalo refinery and are beginning to look at alternative energy methods.

"At the end of the day, (using switchgrass) might be better for us and cheaper than corn," Hall said. "That's the kind of research of ideas we need."

Hall's background in entrepreneurship helped him to gather ideas for the direction in which the tribes should head.

"I'm a cattle rancher, so I've always produced local beef," Hall said. "I ran a business locally. Being a former small business cattle rancher and farmer, I know the value it brings to rural towns."

Glimpsing the future

Although the certificate program is certainly the first big step in the partnership, many other pieces are quickly falling in to place.


Dr. Doug Woodard, the director of the DSU Center of Entrepreneurship and Rural Revitalization, sat in on the most recent meetings. The next step in the partnership is to establish a Native American small business enterprise center. Woodard will work with the community college President Rusty Mason in that regard.

"Dickinson provides the curriculum and course work... but we had to have the commitment of the community college," Hall said. "Once Dr. Woodard explained it and (FBCC President) Rusty (Mason) was comfortable with it, all we needed was a place to make the announcement."

Mason could not be reached for comment.

Hall, of course, said he would work with the community college to offer any support it needed. The process is already getting started, even as loan and grant applications are being written.

"It fits in very well with the mission of the enterprise center," Woodward said. "It really does. What we're all about is establishing a regional presence for entrepreneurship. It's reaching beyond Dickinson."

For Hall, he said the partnership is just the beginning. Along with the certificate program, the enterprise center and the new e-scholars program, both parties intend to have think tanks to discuss issues facing southwestern North Dakota and continue working together into the future.

"On all fronts, our intention is to move ASAP," Vickers said.

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