GRAND FORKS — Longtime United Tribes Technical College president and a leader in American Indian higher education David Gipp has died.
Gipp died on Sept. 11, the United Tribes Technical College announced Friday. He was 74.
“David Gipp devoted his entire adult life to serve Native People, using his vision and activism to address injustice and improve the acceptance of Native People in the modern world,” the college said on its Facebook page. “As the UTTC president and as a leader for the tribal college movement, he helped thousands of students pursue education and training to uplift their lives and those of their families and communities.”
Gipp was a key leader in higher education for American Indians in North Dakota and across the country.
“He's always been an advocate for tribal higher education,” said UTTC President Russ McDonald.
Having been born in a tribal community, McDonald said Gipp understood why advocating for tribal higher education was so important. There is high poverty among American Indians, higher rates of chronic disease and other environments that affect students attending a tribal college, but Gipp understood that, McDonald said.
Born in Fort Yates, N.D., Gipp was a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. As a tribal planner at Standing Rock, he worked with North Dakota’s tribal leaders when they formed the initial programs of the inter-tribal training center at Bismarck that became United Tribes Technical College. He briefly served on the board and, in 1977, was chosen to lead the college, where he served for 37 years until 2015.
Gipp attended UND and earned a degree in political science in 1969. He was a founding member and the first president of the UND Indian Association. He also was an important part of UND’s Indians Into Medicine program. He served as chair of the program’s advisory board.
Warne began working with Gipp back in 2008, when Warne was the director of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman's Health Board. They worked together throughout the years, later when the INMED leadership position opened, Gipp asked Warne to consider applying for the job.
Warne said Gipp helped increase access to higher education locally for American Indians.
“He was the driving force behind making that happen over the last several decades,” Warne said.
Gipp was the first full-time executive director of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, headquartered in Denver, Col.; he served as the president of the organization’s board of directors three times. And he played an instrumental role in the national legislative effort to establish policies and laws for tribal college recognition and support.
“It's such a terrible loss because he's such a powerful role model for promoting and advocating for higher education,” Warne said. “He was one of a kind.”
Kathleen Fredericks, who is the college coordinator for the INMED program, said it was obvious that Gipp had a passion for higher education and added he was “instrumental in creating opportunities for American Indian students at many levels.”
“He was a kind and gentle soul,” she said. “He had a great relationship and friendship with all of our board members.”
When the advisory board met, he would request time for summer students, ages seventh through medical school, to meet with the board.
“His interactions with the students were genuine and heartfelt,” Fredericks said. “He wanted our students to accomplish great things. He knew how to inspire them.”
Additionally, he served on the National Indian Education Association board, was twice president of the American Indian College Fund board and he served on the U.S. Department of Labor Native American Employment and Training Council for nearly 30 years.
Joshua Wynne, dean of the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences, said Gipp embodied the idea that education can better a person’s life.
“His work with United Tribes was an example of that, as was the INMED program. The way forward is through education,” Wynne said. “He demonstrated that; he lived that. And then he made it happen for thousands of American Indian students.”
UND is now leading the country in Indigineous health and percentage of American Indian medical students, Wynne noted that’s due in large part to Gipp’s work and influence.
“That's the legacy of President Gipp,” Wynne said. “And that’s due to in substantial measure to his impact, his guidance and his tenacity to the principle that education makes us all better.”
Under his leadership, United Tribes Technical College became an accredited college offering two- and four-year post-secondary programs, along with career and technical education, and workforce training.
“His influence at the college lives on in the many educational and inter-tribal programs he initiated and promoted,” United Tribes Technical College ended its Facebook post. “David Gipp will always be remembered and honored at United Tribes as one who was dedicated to the advancement and success of others.”