Community Learning Exchange

Pablo Montana--Salish Kootenai College

Salish Kootenai College serves the tribal community of the Flathead Indian Nation in Pablo, Montana. Tribal lands were opened to homesteading by White settlers in the early 1900’s leading to present day reality of two cultures living side-by-side in the same region. This affects student and family experiences in the public school systems shared by Native Americans and Whites.

The college provides opportunities for quality education and individual self-improvement. It also helps maintain the cultures of the Confederated Tribes of the Flathead Indian Nation.

How are they improving opportunities for Native Americans?
They engage Native American youth in completing their education and giving back to the community through their leadership. Youth are encouraged to stretch into opportunities to use their voice and perspective as Native Americans in ways that benefit the whole community.

Chaney Bell, a young Salish man, became inspired to preserve the Salish language as a foundation for strengthening the Salish community in the future. He co-founded Nkusm Salish Language Revitalization Institute, a language immersion school, to promote culture and heritage as a source of future success of Salish youth and their community.

Mariah Friedlander, a Native American high school student, was appointed to the Montana Indian Education Association as its first ever high school representative. She used this opportunity to share current realities of Native American youth with this statewide group and to reflect on her own role in school (see bridge article below).

Creating collective leadership capacity. To improve the culture of public schools in ways that support Native American student success, Salish Kootenai College invited a wide ranging cross section of the community to work together. They gathered tribal members and White neighbors, teachers, parents, students, administrators, and business leaders. They had to learn how to have challenging conversations about the deep pain that discrimination has created in their community. As they learned to respect each other, they could then develop strategies to support the success of all their children.

KLCC Bridge Vol 3 #12 June 2006 page 5
Young people can bring new energy and ideas to ongoing projects, reinvigorating work that’s already being done. Ronan High School sophomore Mariah Friedlander joined the Montana Indian Education Association last year as its first ever high school representative. The Association strives to ensure that educational initiatives beneficial to Indian people, especially those designed to close the achievement gap and graduation rate shortfalls among Indian youth, are adopted. For Friedlander, who was a fellow in KLCC I and is part of the coordinating organization for Session II, it was an opportunity to bring the youth perspective into an equation that was already being balanced on the backs of youth.

“I was sort of the ears and eyes of all the youth on the reservations,” Friedlander says. “It was my decision to wake people up.”

As much as the board has been changed by her presence, Friedlander found that she, too, has undergone positive change. She learned that though there was an achievement gap between native and non-native students, it was not across the board. Off the reservations, native student achievement more closely matched that of non-native students. Friedlander felt the disparity resulted directly from the lack of synergy between the curriculum and the lives of young people on the reservations. Urban and reservation-based native students helped create relevant curricula.

“[Serving on the board] helped me out in school. When I see those statistics gaps, it breaks my heart. It pushes me pretty hard in school. … It has guided me to be more responsible. Our generation wants to know where we’re from. It has us thinking about the future more wisely.”

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