Chief Dull Knife College will begin the winter semester in January with an extra $1 million in its budget.
The funds come courtesy of philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, and the college in Lame Deer joins Blackfeet Community College, Salish Kootenai College and other institutions across the country as recipients over the past several months of donations that have totaled nearly $4.2 billion.
“I told Scott’s assistant over the phone that now I know how those people who win the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes feel. It is a real boon to the college,” said Richard Littlebear, president of Chief Dull Knife College.
Scott, the 18th-richest person in the world and former spouse of Jeff Bezos, has spent the past few months with a team of advisers selecting colleges and nonprofit organizations for donations. In a statement posted to Medium on Tuesday, Scott wrote that her advisers sifted through thousands of pages of data on local needs, conducted interviews and determined which organizations and institutions had the capacity to effectively use a large donation.
In finally choosing where to make a donation, Scott wrote that she and her team focused on those organizations “operating in communities facing high projected food insecurity, high measures of racial inequity, high local poverty rates, and low access to philanthropic capital.”
As of Friday, 384 schools and non-profits had received donations. Those donations come, according to Scott, “with full trust and no strings attached.” Six tribal colleges were included in that list. Those outside of Montana were the Institute of American Indian Arts, Navajo Technical University and Turtle Mountain Community College.
The YWCA of Billings announced earlier this week that it had received a $1 million gift from Scott as well. The nonprofit’s CEO Merry Lee Olson said the donation will help fund a new emergency shelter that will more than double the YWCA’s capacity for those seeking refuge from domestic and sexual violence and human trafficking.
Littlebear, who holds a doctorate in education from Boston University, said the next step for the college will be prioritizing the funds from Scott. The only restriction with the donation was that Littlebear keep it confidential until Tuesday's announcement from Scott.
That process will include input from staff and students, he said, and likely won’t begin until the start of the winter semester. School will be in session after a cancellation of all classes at the college over the fall due to a spike in cases of COVID-19 on the reservation.
“The way I operate is that I get input from everybody before making a decision,” Littlebear said.
During that time, Littlebear said he and the rest of the faculty at Chief Dull Knife College have been familiarizing themselves with ways to take their coursework online, should the virus cause classes to go digital during the upcoming semester. Along with taking into account the funding given to the college through the CARES Act, Littlebear said prioritizing the gift from Scott will be put off until the return of students Jan. 25.
Although he expects a dip in attendance at the start of the new semester, he said the student body at the college averages about 300 people.
Speaking for himself, Littlebear said he wanted to see more broadband access for the college to better connect it with the rest of the Northern Cheyenne reservation and the state. While cell phone reception and internet access has improved somewhat over the years, Littlebear said WiFi access for students at the college will most likely come through this donation.
“We are good stewards of any money that we get, be it through a grant, the CARES Act or donation. We stretch make it a point to stretch that money very, very far,” he said.