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California’s Only Tribal College Still Struggling After 35 Years

DAVIS, Calif.

Thirty-five years after a group of American Indians and Mexican Americans scaled a barbed-wire fence to occupy an old Army communications site west of Davis, supporters are celebrating the anniversary of what became California’s only tribal college.

But the college known as D-Q University is as troubled this year as at any time in its turbulent history, with leadership fights and sit-ins by students trying to keep it open.

Thirty-five years ago, the site had been declared surplus property, and the government planned to give it to the nearby University of California, Davis for use in research programs on rice and primates. But the protesters climbed the fence before dawn on Nov. 3, 1970, and set up a teepee, refusing to leave until they got the land.

Last year the tribal college lost accreditation and funding, and closed during the spring semester because of a court battle over its control. The college reopened this fall with 60 students.

It’s being run now by college President Art Apodaca, who returned to guide the college he helped start.

Apodaca, now 66, recalled removing his peacoat to cover the barbed wire and boosting other protesters over the fence about 4:45 a.m. A soldier at the facility thought it was a prank.

“When this opportunity came up, we went for it, we grabbed it with no bashfulness,” Apodaca said. “We were going to have our school.”

The original dream of a four-year college, health school and law school are still achievable, Apodaca said. He plans to meet with the accrediting agency this week, and is talking with tribes about donations and community colleges about temporary accreditation. He hopes to turn over the reaccredited college to an experienced administrator by 2008.

Student Manda Vann said she nearly cried when the college’s original plans were recently discovered in a vault.

“We found the dream of the people who originally wanted the school and now we’re here to finish it,” Vann said.

But the turmoil continues.

About a dozen former students set up their own teepee outside the university to commemorate the anniversary, but they were barred from setting foot on the campus because some have allegedly caused trouble before. That group alleges they also have been shut out of college board meetings.

Associated Press

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