NOAA 2000-R113
Contact: Brian Gorman


Northwest Indian College in Bellingham, Wash., has become the nation's first academic institution serving minorities to benefit from a joint tribal-federal education venture for nationwide training of tribal members in environmental preservation and natural resource management, the Commerce Department announced today.

The assistance comes in part from $100,000 in grants from the department's National Marine Fisheries Service's Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle and from the Economic Development Administration.

"The goal of this initiative is to form a new research partnership between some of the center's 210 research scientists and reservation-based Native Americans facing natural resource issues in the Pacific Northwest and across the nation," said David Festa, acting director of the Office of Policy and Strategic Planning in the Commerce Department.

Usha Varanasi, director of the fisheries science center and Robert J. Lorence, president of the college, signed a memorandum of understanding today in Seattle creating the National Indian Center for Marine, Fisheries and Environmental Research to administer emerging programs.

"This is an extremely exciting moment for me, both personally and professionally, " said Varanasi. She noted that while many Indian tribes rely on Pacific salmon and other marine fish for their livelihoods, tribal fisheries programs lack Native people with scientific or technical training in environmental preservation and natural resources. The Northwest Indian College, she noted, is the country's only tribal college with a marine science and aquaculture program.

Varanasi has been mentoring students in natural resource science for 20 years.

The grant money will go to establishing a culturally grounded education and training program that takes advantage of the college's "distance-learning" telecommunications network, where satellite transmissions will beam classroom lectures to as many as 16 of the 30 other tribal colleges nationwide and ten distance-education centers in the region. The long-range goal, Lorence said, is educational programming that reaches Native Americans at all 30 tribal colleges and scores of classrooms.

The distance-learning program will share faculty from the college and research biologists from the Northwest science center in the curriculum.

"The economy and lifestyles of the Northwest Indian Nations are deeply rooted in 'natural resources of the sea,'" said Lorence. "Since tribes have increased responsibility for preserving and sustaining these valuable resources, tribal colleges are the ideal institutions to provide the education and training for tribal people who will become the technologists, researchers and managers of these tribal resources."

He added: "This new partnership, creating the National Indian Center, will provide the fiscal resources and infrastructure to prepare tribal members throughout the nation to fill important leadership and management positions within their own communities. This is part of a gratifying outgrowth of the White House Initiative on Tribal Colleges. And we're especially pleased that the tribal college center will create new jobs in the reservation communities and will include applied research to support reservation-based economic development."

Varanasi said the mutual benefits inaugurated by today's agreement will be substantial. The tribes, she said, will benefit culturally and economically by expanding their research and training in fisheries science, especially in areas like aquaculture, computer science and protection of environmental resources.

"Second," she added, "the federal government and its employees will benefit by having a more culturally diverse workforce who have been connected to our natural resources and environmental history for generations."

Today's partnership venture is expected to provide a foundation for implementing programs arising from the administration's current budget request for $28 million to develop new partnerships with the nation's minority-serving institutions, including tribal colleges and universities, historically black colleges and universities and Hispanic-serving institutions.

Northwest Indian College, primarily serving Washington, Oregon, Idaho and southeast Alaska, was originally chartered by the Lummi Indian Business Council as the Lummi Indian School of Aquaculture, in 1973. The college's leadership in this arena has the support of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, a national organization of tribal and Bureau of Indian Affairs colleges and universities.