La Oferta

December 10, 2023

San Jose student questions Indian Institute management in New Mexico

January 4, 1994

By Yolanda Reynolds

La Oferta Newspaper.

A San Josean, Henry Morillo, attending the renowned Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe with other arts students, says that the school suffers from mismanagement. Morillo and his group, “Students for Academic Excellence and Equal Rights,” are demanding that their questions be answered and major improvements be made at the Institute.

The IAIA was established by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in the 1960’s. The school, an art school for Native American students, now also offers its students the equivalent of the first two years of college thus providing those who wish to continue their studies in higher education the proper academic courses to do so.

The school is now accepting non-American Indian students who wish to learn more of the American Indian art expression. Besides having had a healthy endowment from private benefactors the IAIA receives around $9 million a year of Federal Funds. The Institute is no longer administered by the BIA but is under the direct administration of the US. Congress and more specifically the Office of Congressman Richardson.

Indian artists in de the Americas have had a strong tradition in many media, sculpture, painting, weaving, basket making, pottery and mixed media. The school has been important in fostering these arts among the younger people who now find themselves scattered about the nation’s major cities. Many others yet live in Reservations that can be found in almost every state of the Union.

Henry Morillo heritage is Ohlone, Chumash Indian from the Santa Inez Reservation in California, and Chicano. Morillo who had been painting and working in computer graphics before leaving San Jose became particularly interested in sculpture while at the institute. He plans to continue his studies in preparation for a teaching career in art. Morillo is hoping to be able to teach art to juveniles who are struggling with their abuse of alcohol and drugs. Morillo is a Vietnam veteran and sought out work as a dorm supervisor but his efforts were rebuffed and he was shortly dismissed.

This past summer, Morillo was “artist in residence” at the prestigious Native American Prep School for gifted and talented Indian youth. The school is located in Santa Fe.

Of the Institute, one student who describes in some detail the problems in the dorm, writes “I gave up a lot to come to IAIA. I had a job with the State of Maine that paid me $25,000 a year. I left a fine house to go back to the tribal housing authority and I parted with loved ones to pursue a long-time dream to learn photography in a prestigious native arts school.”

He poignantly states, “To give this up, only to discover the school is something akin to the animals running the zoo was a sore disappointment, to say the least.”

Many of the school’s graduates have become world renowned for their artwork. For many reasons the Institute has been an important center, not only as an attraction for tourists to the city of Santa Fe where it is located, but to many native American Indians who wish to study their heritage more intensely through the expression of art.

For centuries, Native American peoples have left a rich and varied tradition of arts that continues to this day. In the United States the Southwest has been the acknowledged leader in the appreciation and diffusion of Native American arts.

According to Morillo and other IAIA students the problems at the Institute range from the improper supervision of student affairs on the campus (students live on campus), and arbitrary personnel policies, to fiscal mismanagement of student and school funds.

In a letter to the IAIA administration the students express their dismay at the lack of concern for ‘‘excessive” drinking in the dorms and disregard for preventive help for alcoholism and drug abuse. This was evidenced by their closing a meeting room for weekly AA meetings. This forced the meetings to take place at the Indian hospital off campus.

Alcoholism is an acknowledged problem in the Native American communities.

The students were also angered over the numerous generous perks for IAIA administrators while the teachers are told there is no money for better salaries. For example, the campus learning resource center cannot be expanded for lack of funds, etc. while the administration can purchase a conference table for $10,000. The students were also unhappy that many staff positions were unfilled.

The students are demanding that the Government Accounting Office (GAO) conduct an audit. The school is also scheduled to undergo its accreditation review.

Morillo explains that he and the other students care very deeply about the school and that their protests are made only to make it the sort of place it needs to be in order to continue to exist.

They say that the problems have gotten out of hand. Drunkenness has led to serious problems including, rapes and life threatening fights. The mismanagement cheats the students of the education they desperately want and need.

In a letter of protest, one former IAIA student, Winona April Staver, a native American student from Alaska, describes her disillusionment with the Institute over the manner in which the school’s staff handled a dispute regarding the receipt of funds to pay for he tuition. The financial aids office staff claimed that she owed to the school money. College officials said that there was no money in their office for her and demanded that she pay them the required$3,000.

Staver persisted in telling them that there should be some money there for her. She was able to attend the Institute because she had received a tuition grant front an Alaskan tribal cooperative to cover her expenses.

Slaver refused to pay the requested sum and instead kept after them until they “finally discovered her check.”

As a consequence of this experience, Staver says, she left the Institute and changed her career goals to law enforcement.

She was among a number of former students who wrote letters to state officials in support of the protests.

Staver concluded her comments by stating, “I will not go to IAIA again, it is not a school to promote the students.”

The students met with U.S. Representative Bill Richardson D. New Mexico in mid-December. He has indicated that he will look into the problems at the Institute.”

While interim president in 1993 of the IAIA, Schuyler Houser described the serious problems on the campus in a letter he wrote to U.S. Congressman Joe Skeen this past Fall. He was dismissed from the Institute after three months there.

Houser appointed that academic accreditation of the Institute was in jeopardy because important administrative positions had not been filled – positions such as academic dean and dean of students. He said that there are questions regarding the required academic preparation of some faculty members and administrators and that there has been a serious decline in donations to the Institute in spite of increased administrative costs for fund raising.

According to Houser there has been an admitted reluctance in Washington to address the problems for fear of the “potential damage to the Institute’s reputation.”

Houser is currently the Director of the college of the Spokane Indian Reservation in Spokane, Washington.

Morillo has completed his studies at the Institute and expects to attend graduation ceremonies this spring.

Another campus leader, Wilson Daingkau, student body president of the Institute, has similar questions regarding the operating of the school. Daingkau has one more year at the Institute before he completes his studies.

Attempts of the student newspaper, the “Talking Stick,” to report on the student protest were met by the editor’s expulsion from the Institute for an alleged attack by her of a fellow student. An investigation by the Santa Fe Grand Jury dismissed those charges.

Reportedly a new staff personnel manual that was recently published which threatens administrative censure for involvement in any way student affairs and protests.

Morillo says, “the staff and faculty are uneasy.” He fears that “their first amendment rights are being violated.”

The students have exposed serious problems at the Institute. It is clear that too many students are very disappointed with the conditions that they have encountered, both in and out of the classroom.

The Institute is important not only to New Mexicans, but to the rest of the nation. The Institute provides a very important not only for Native American Indians but for the continuance and appreciation of the essence of the unique and important aspect of American culture and the heritage that is found in the Native American inspired arts.

The students are right in asking for a GAO audit. As Houser suggests the Institute must make a thorough review of its programs in order to retain its accreditation otherwise a graduation certificate will be meaningless and useless to its graduates.

Supporters and critics alike comment that there are talented faculty and gifted students at the Institute albeit surviving under great duress and privation for the lack of proper management.

To contact the office of U.S. Congressman Bill Richards his New Mexico number is 1-505-988-7230. © La Oferta Newspaper.