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Education class visits Salish Kootenai College

December 2, 2011

The class also had the opportunity to meet one of Montana Western’s most distinguished alumni, Joe McDonald, the founding president of the SKC and member of the Salish Kootenai tribe. McDonald earned a teaching certificate from Western Montana College [now Montana Western] in 1953. He later earned a teaching degree in secondary education from the University of Montana.

Over four days, Montana Western students 0bserved established teachers with their students in multicultural classrooms at Flathead Indian Reservation high schools during the day and later met and shared ideas on education with SKC faculty and education students on the SKC campus.

“It’s a fantastic program that we have at Montana Western,” UMW Professor of Education John Xanthopoulos explained. “It gives both Montana Western students and those at Salish Kootenai College an opportunity to exchange ideas dealing with contemporary issues.”

The Montana Western and Salish Kootenai education students and staff shared their ideas in a talking circle, contemplating Native American and multicultural issues and what non-native educators can do to become successful at teaching kindergarten through 12th grades on American Indian reservations.

Andrew Marcure — a senior at Montana Western pursuing a double major in secondary education, human health and performance and business, computers — was a student in the EDU 311 class. Marcure said the visit gave him invaluable insight into exploring educational issues on Native American reservations.

“It’s important to reach a native student on a personal level,” Montana Western student Andrew Marcure relayed. “You need to learn about the tribe and its culture, let them know you are there because you want to be, to become involved in their community.”

“It’s important to reach a native student on a personal level.,” Marcure relayed. “You need to learn about the tribe and its culture, let them know you are there because you want to be, to become involved in their community.”

The roots of the SKC were established by President Emeritus Joe McDonald. McDonald taught and coached for 57 years across Montana in elementary and secondary education. He later became principal at Ronan High School on the Flathead Indian Reservation.

While at Ronan, McDonald involved himself in adult education, an area where he saw “a tremendous need for post-secondary educational opportunities for Indian people” who had already earned a General Education Diploma (GED) through the high school. McDonald observed many graduates could not leave home due to cultural ties.

“An audit in 1976 of ten U. S. universities led by the government found that over half of the freshman class of American Indians didn’t graduate,” McDonald explained. “There was a lack of counseling and the culture shock of leaving home. There was a need to preserve the culture. Elders wanted to teach the culture and needed new avenues.”

Starting at the Flathead Indian Agency in Pablo, McDonald requested permission from the Tribal Council to establish a college on the Flathead Reservation. The council passed a resolution in 1977 and the SKC began offering classes later that year.

Title 3 funding from the Higher Education Act became available at that time and those funds also helped establish the Blackfeet Community College in Browning, Mont. McDonald noted several Blackfeet Indians attended Western Montana College during his time as a college student.

“Many went on to become pretty renowned educators in American Indian country,” McDonald relayed.

McDonald noted the accomplishments of Blackfeet tribal member Earl Barlow, who earned a bachelor’s degree from Western Montana College in 1947 and brought Indian Education into the public spotlight during the 1972 Montana Constitutional Convention. Dr. Barlow was later chosen as a member of the American Indian Policy Review Commission of Congress in 1975 and also served as Director of Indian Education in the Bureau of Indian Affairs during the late 1970s.

Achievements and collaboration across tribes continues.

Today, the SKC has students enrolled from at least 45 different tribes and offers 11 bachelor degrees and 15 two-year degrees.

Development of the SKC was part of the EDU 311 class experience and Andrew Marcure said he has seen personally the positive impact of the SKC.

Before becoming a student at Montana Western, Marcure grew up in Charlo, Mont., a small community located on the Flathead Indian Reservation between the towns of Ronan and St. Ignatius. Having friends who are or have been in the teacher education and nursing programs at SKC, Marcure can attest to the growth shown by the college. He also said the EDU 311 class left a positive imprint on his own education.

“The class, Ronan high school observation and visit to the SKC were motivating and really made me want to be a teacher,” Marcure said.

The Multicultural and Global Education class is offered year-round at Montana Western. In addition to the Salish Kootenai College experience, Montana Western students also may visit tribal colleges on the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations.