After a rigorous career in academia, Eric Tippeconnic, a Comanche doctoral candidate, will be receiving his doctorate degree in history, making him the first professionally trained historian in his tribe’s history.
Tippeconnic said that he initially began looking into graduate school and was visiting his tribal headquarters in Lawton, Oklahoma, where the education director asked him what he was interested in pursuing.
“I was always fascinated by history and that’s probably where I’m going to go, and this was even before I did my master's degree,” Tippeconnic said. “They said, ‘You know, we’ve never had a professionally trained historian, it would be wonderful if you did that,’ and they encouraged me to take that leap.”
Tippeconnic comes from a line of Comanches that have received graduate degrees that started with his grandfather, John Tippeconnic, who he said may have been the first Native American in history to earn a master’s degree in one year.
“He was the first tribal (Comanche) member to get a four-year degree of any kind, and the he took it a step further and he was the first Comanche to ever achieve a master’s degree. He graduated from what is now Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff in 1942,” Tippeconnic said. “Some people believe that he was the first Indian to ever get a master's degree in a year...I can’t prove that he was the first, I don’t have all the documentation to prove that. But that’s what some people say.”
Tippeconnic’s doctoral dissertation is titled “God Dogs and Education: Comanche Traditional Cultural Innovation and three Generations of Comanche Men," and follows three generations of Tippeconnic’s family from 1852 to 1987.
“1852 is when my great grandfather Tippeconnic — that was his only name — was born, and he was born a quarter century before the reservation era began for Comanches, meaning that for a quarter century he was living life free on the plains, like all Comanches did.” Tippeconnic said, “I decided to begin there, because, number one, it was in a period of time before western institutions overcame our traditional lifestyle. Number two, it’s my namesake; he was the first one given the name ‘Tippekahni.’”
Tippeconnic’s name is an anglicizing of “TippeKahni,” which translates to “rock house,’ the Comanche word for “guardhouse.”
Tippeconnic said that his great-grandfather got his name after he stole horses from the U.S. Military in Fort Sill on the Comanche reservation. When Tippeconnic returned from selling the horses in Texas, he was thrown into the guard house for a time, which earned him the name “Tippe Kahni” or “rock house.”
Tippeconnic’s interest in history began at a young age, when he heard stories about his great-grandfather and grandfather and his mother’s childhood.
“My dad’s a full-blooded Comanche, and my mother is from Copenhagen, Denmark,” Tippeconnic said. “My mother grew up as a little girl in WWII when Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany occupied her country, so her first memories were her growing up in an occupied country. Growing up I got to hear all those stories as well, about the Nazis and the war and how they had to put up black covers and sheets on their windows for the duration of the war so the allied bombers couldn’t see any lights coming from the city during their bombing raids.”
Tippeconnic seeks to publish his dissertation and to pursue other projects now that he has his doctorate.
“I’ve been teaching at California State University, Fullerton for the past five years, so I’m going to keep teaching in the history department there right now,” Tippeconnic said. “I’m also a full time artist, so I’m going to keep writing, I’m going to try to get the dissertation published. That’s the big plan, and then I’m going to keep painting.”
Fin Martinez is the culture editor for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @FinMartinez.