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American Indian College was pioneered 60 years ago in Phoenix, Arizona, by a white female Assemblies of God missionary, Alta Washburn, who recognized the urgent need to train Native American leaders.
At the time, the U.S. census reported about 500,000 Native Americans living in the nation. Many were migrating from rural reservations to urban areas, and various denominations started “Indian missions,” mostly led by white missionaries.
Alta Washburn and her husband began serving the Apache Indians on the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona in 1946. They understood firsthand the importance of developing indigenous leaders. As whites, their ministry on the reservation was limited. But Native American migration to the cities opened new ministry opportunities. They moved to Phoenix in 1948 and started All Tribes Assembly of God, which became an important spiritual and social refuge for Native Americans from various tribal backgrounds who often felt out of place in their new surroundings.
Washburn believed that she was called to empower Native Americans to become pastors and leaders in their own communities and tribes. She had a vision to plant Native American churches throughout Arizona. An important part of this vision was the establishment of a Bible school to train pastors. The school she founded, initially called All Tribes Indian Bible Training School, opened its doors on Sept. 23, 1957. Washburn remained as president of the school until 1965.
The Sept. 9, 1973, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel highlighted the history of the school. The article noted that the school emphasized study of the Word of God and training in practical ministry. One of the most visible student ministries was the Tribalaires, a traveling group of students who sang and ministered in churches across the nation.
Simon Peter, a Choctaw, became the school’s first Native American president in 1978. The school changed its name several times over the years -- American Indian Bible Institute (1967), American Indian Bible College (1982), and American Indian College (1994). In 2016, American Indian College became a campus of Southwestern Assemblies of God University, retaining its name and mission, while benefiting from the resources and faculty of the larger school.
Since its origins 60 years ago, American Indian College has grown significantly and now serves nearly 25 tribes as well as other ethnicities. Alta Washburn’s vision for a school to train Native American leaders has made a lasting mark, not only on the deserts of Arizona, but across the nation, wherever its graduates have served as pastors, missionaries, evangelists, and church workers.
Read “Indian Youth Train for Ministry,” on pages 14 and 15 of the Sept. 9, 1973, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “What We can do for our Colleges,” by Albert W. Earle
• “I Like My Problems” by Ralph Cimino
• “Jesus is Always in Vogue,” by J. Robert Ashcroft
And many more!
Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.