Indian Education for All: A Tribal College Perspective: Montana's Tribal Colleges Have the Knowledge and Expertise to Help the State's Public Schools Fulfill the Mandate of Indian Education for All. but Their Resources Are Limited, and They Must Find Ways to Offer Their Services without Stretching Themselves Too Thin

Article excerpt

WHEN delegates to Montana's 1972 constitutional convention inserted new language into the constitution regarding the cultural and educational integrity of the state's American Indians, little did they know the impact it would have on education some 34 years later. Bringing that constitutional language to life in Montana's classrooms would be a precarious journey, finally resulting in its codification in the Indian Education for All (IEFA) Act, passed in 1999, and the law's historic funding by the state legislature in 2005.

Adding to all of these events was the election of Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who proposed an increase in funding for IEFA. Gov. Schweitzer's proposal included a unique provision: funding to support Montana's seven tribal colleges in their efforts to write their own tribal histories, called the Tribal Histories Project.

Montana's tribal colleges have always operated in accordance with the tenets of IEFA, and many include in their mission statements the advancement of their tribes' culture and traditions. The current challenge facing tribal colleges is to meet the demands of Montana's education community for accurate and appropriate information about tribes while still carrying out their own unique and specific functions.


Tribal colleges were created as a response to demands for higher education opportunities in Native communities. Starting in 1968 with the establishment of Navajo Community College, tribes began bringing college courses to their members. During the early 1970s, many tribal colleges in Montana began developing partnerships with existing community colleges and four-year institutions to create satellite campuses on reservations. Tribal education leaders worked with a newly formed organization, the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, to lay the groundwork for the establishment of Montana's first tribal colleges. In 1984, Salish Kootenai College in Pablo became the state's first accredited tribally controlled college. Today, all seven of Montana's tribal colleges are fully accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

Tribal colleges have become success stories unto themselves. Their graduates have gone to work for the tribes or have gone on to obtain bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees. While increasing tribal members' access to higher education, the colleges have also helped to maintain and preserve tribal cultures and languages. Tribal history and language courses are part of the core graduation requirements at tribal colleges, and many have established tribal archives to store and protect important photos and documents. For some students, attending one of these colleges may be their first opportunity to learn about their history and culture from a tribal perspective.

Little Big Horn College, located in Crow Agency, Montana, is a good example of the tribal colleges' role in transmitting and preserving culture. The college's mission statement reads, in part, "The College is committed to the preservation, perpetuation, and protection of Crow culture and language and respects the distinct bilingual and bicultural aspects of the Crow Indian community." (1) Students can take Crow Language I, Crow Language II, and Conversational Crow. Other course offerings, such as Crow Social and Familial Kinship and History of the Crow Chiefs, address Crow culture and history. Students may even earn a two-year degree in Crow Studies. Staff members and students converse in Crow in class and at work. The College Board of Trustees conducts its business meetings in the Crow language. David Yarlott, Jr., president of Little Big Horn College, stresses the importance of the Crow language and culture to the college: "The part in our mission statement that states 'committed to the preservation, perpetuation, and protection of Crow culture and language' says it all for me. It is not only a statement, but I feel it. …


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