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Inside the Eagle's Head

An American Indian College

Angelle A. Khachadoorian

Publication Year: 2010

The Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI) is a selfdescribed National American Indian Community College in Albuquerque, New Mexico. SIPI is operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, an agency of the U.S. government that has overseen and managed the relationship between the government and American Indian tribes for almost two hundred years. Students at SIPI are registered members of federally recognized American Indian tribes from throughout the contiguous United States and Alaska.


A fascinatingly hybridized institution, SIPI attempts to meld two conflicting institutional models—a tribally controlled college or university and a Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Indian school—with their unique corporate cultures, rules, and philosophies. Students attempt to cope with the institution and successfully make their way through it by using (consciously or not) an array of metaphorical representations of the school. Students who used discourses of discipline and control compared SIPI to a BIA boarding school, a high school, or a prison, and focused on the school’s restrictive policies drawn from the BIA model. Those who used discourses of family and haven emphasized the emotional connection built between students and other members of the SIPI community following the TCU model. Speakers who used discourses of agency and selfreliance asserted that students can define their own experiences at SIPI. Through a series of interviews, this volume examines the ways in which students attempt to accommodate this variety of conflicts and presents an innovative and enlightening look into the contemporary state of American Indian educational institutions.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. 8-9

List of Illustrations

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p. ix

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pp. xi-xii

The setting for this book is the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI), a self- described National Indian Community College in Albuquerque, New Mexico. SIPI (pronounced “Sippy”) serves registered members of federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaskan Native...

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p. xii

This book is the result of the tremendous generosity of students at the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute who participated in interviews and surveys, and shared their opinions and experiences. While I cannot mention them by name, I am incredibly grateful for their interest in the project and...

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1. Entering the Turquoise Gates: The Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute

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pp. 1-35

In 1971, Native American leaders were, after years of effort, able to persuade the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to fund and build a vocational- technical school in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for Native American students. The new school, the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute, or SIPI (pronounced...

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2. Thinking and Talking About SIPI: Narratives and Metaphors

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pp. 36-49

It is rare to read the words of Native American college students talking about their experiences—notable exceptions are Garrod and Larimore 1997 and Huffman 2008. Tribal college students are represented even less than their peers attending mainstream institutions. Native American students are...

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3. “A Standing Army of School Teachers”: American Indian Education, Assimilation, and the BIA

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pp. 50-85

The Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute is a direct descendent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs schools of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Many of the organizational and cultural qualities that make the institution unusual in comparison to tribally controlled colleges and mainstream...

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4. Taking a New Path: The Decision to Attend SIPI

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pp. 86-106

The Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute—owing to its small size and the specialization of its mission—is not widely known outside the Native American community, even among longtime residents of Albuquerque. When it is known of, SIPI is seen as the less storied, less mythic younger sibling...

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5. Life Within the Eagle’s Head

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pp. 107-154

As with all institutions, the story of the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute is told not only through the big picture and the significant events, but also through myriad mundane details, the minutiae of life on campus. The organizational structure informs that culture, but it is students—through...

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6. SIPI Is a Reservation: Family, Friends, and Mentors

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pp. 155-184

There are multiple positive metaphors students use when describing SIPI, many of which center around the personal relationships they have built. Students say “SIPI is a haven” because it provides a microcosm of Indian Country, free of externally imposed racism, and surrounded by the larger...

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7. SIPI Is What You Make It: Academics, Administration, and Working Around the System

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pp. 185-210

The Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute is, at its most fundamental level, a community college. It shares certain qualities with other community colleges, such as the need to remediate students, small class size, and individualized attention for students from faculty and staff. Students in surveys...

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8. SIPI Is an Opportunity: Giving Students the Chance to Dream

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pp. 211-219

What should we make of the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute? As an institution, it has tremendous potential. Surely, even with its current flawed system, SIPI is an educational asset to the Native American community. Any institution that promotes and provides low- cost and easily accessible...

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Appendix. Studying the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute

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pp. 221-226

The Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute underwent multiple changes during my time there, and the school continues to do so. The descriptions of the campus, the school’s organizational structure, and the policies outlined in this book refer to what was in place for the majority of my time at the college...

Works Cited

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pp. 227-238


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pp. 239-241

E-ISBN-13: 9780817383534
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817356149

Page Count: 241
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 772845340
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Inside the Eagle's Head

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Subject Headings

  • Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute.
  • Indian universities and colleges -- New Mexico -- Albuquerque.
  • Indians of North America -- Education (Higher) -- New Mexico -- Albuquerque.
  • Indian college students -- United States -- Attitudes.
  • Indians of North America -- Education (Higher) -- Government policy -- United States.
  • Indian college students -- New Mexico -- Albuquerque -- Attitudes.
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