Westmont Magazine A Pioneer in Indigenous Education
Saskatchewan Indian Federated College in Regina, Canada, is far away from Westmont. College President Eber Hampton ’64 traveled a long and circuitous road to get there, but he remembers his alma mater with “gratitude and great affection.”
“Westmont was an extremely positive experience for me. It nurtured my intellectual, spiritual and personal growth in ways that still sustain me,” Eber explained.
A Chickasaw Indian, Eber was born in Oklahoma, and came to Westmont in 1960. Eber went on to UCSB to study the psychology of human learning, but suffered a crisis of faith and strayed from God. “I lived the life of the prodigal for many years in self-destruction and depravity, but always some distant light of goodness kept me from being totally lost,” he said.
He left UCSB with all but the final draft of his dissertation and accepted a job teaching psychology at Mankato State University in Minnesota. From there, Eber took a position directing an alternative high school for inner-city Indian students. That and working with Native American elders “began my return to my present humble and limited understanding of prayer, and the grace, goodness and power of God.”
Eber began to seek deeper understanding of his Native American roots as well, and won a Bush Leadership Development Fellowship, which led him to Harvard. For four years he directed the American Indian Program at Harvard, but soon realized Harvard wasn’t the place to work in indigenous higher education.
Saskatchewan Indian Federated College had one of the most promising programs, but no faculty position was available at the time. So Eber went to the University of Alaska, where he consulted on establishing Spirit Camps with Alaskan Native elders and leaders. Meanwhile, he completed his Ed.D. in administration, planning and social policy at Harvard, and accepted a faculty position at the University of Alaska. Ultimately, Eber was named associate dean of the College of Rural Alaska.
But in 1991, Eber was offered the opportunity to become president of Saskatchewan Indian Federated College, and accepted. Founded in 1976 with just seven students, SIFC is Canada’s only First Nations-controlled university-level institution. Today, 1,500 students attend classes on SIFC’s three campuses in Saskatchewan.
Eber remembers with fondness his years at Westmont: “I remember best walking in the gardens, cleaning the prayer chapel, running the cross-country course. I remember professors whose love of learning, kindness and compassion for the world still remind me of what I would like to give my students.
“’I especially remember Mr. and Mrs. Carl Sisson. Carl was the head janitor, a retired missionary who modeled the satisfaction of doing a good job with a generous spirit. He and his wife opened their home to me and gave me my first example of a happy family.”
After eight years as president of Saskatchewan Indian Federated College, Eber has much in mind for the future, including long-term building plans for the college. He also knows that the greatest legacy he will leave will not be inscribed on buildings, but on the hearts of those he touches.
“When I was offered my present job, I called my elder friend to tell him. He said, ’It sounds like a good job, but it really isn’t that important what job you do. What is important is what kind of elder you are going to be.’
“I would like to be a good elder.”