This is the first center of its kind in the nation, built expressly to house a Native American Studies Department, American Indian Student Services offices, and related campus programming.
The state of Montana is a national leader in Native Americans’ empowerment through the political process. For example, the Montana Legislature boasts the strongest American Indian representation per capita of any state. Additionally, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer has appointed four American Indians to his administration - the second highest number of any state in the nation.
The state of Montana is the most progressive in the nation regarding support of Native American education: it is the only state that has a tribal college for each Indian reservation, and no other state has full accreditation of all its tribal colleges, as Montana does. Montana leads the nation in number of tribal colleges within the state (seven). UM was the first to establish dual admission agreements with all of the tribal colleges and as such it was the first institution in the nation to actively facilitate student transfer from the tribal colleges. Many other institutions nationwide are still working on establishing dual admission agreements. And Montana is the only state in the U.S. with a constitutional mandate to teach American Indian history, culture, and heritage to preschool through higher education students via the Indian Education for All Act.
The University of Montana is a national leader in the following areas of Native American education: Native American Studies; American Indian Student Services; Psychology (INPSYCH program for aspiring Native American psychologists); American Indian Business Leaders; Native American Journalism Initiative/Reznet online newsletter; Indian Law Clinic; and initiatives in the Skaggs School of Pharmacy (Health Careers Opportunity Program and Center of Excellence). UM is a regional leader in Native American initiatives in the Division of Biological Sciences. UM is the only institution in the Northern Rockies region offering education on Native American natural resource management through the College of Forestry and Conservation.
This building was given the last, prime piece of land near the campus Oval, a focal point for the campus, underscoring its importance to this campus and the strong support of the UM administration. The site honors the fact that UM resides in the Salish homeland.
According to the architects who are Native American themselves (L.A. Olson and Associates from Billings, Montana), the site of this building is similar to that of the National Museum of the American Indian which is part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Olson reflects that “Our spot here is like a gateway to the culture. It is an honor for us to be given this last prime site.”
In a true act of self determination, Indians from all Montana’s tribes and beyond have planned this building together. The project has been spearheaded by UM’s two Indian academic leaders: Kate Shanley (Assiniboine), Chair, Department of Native American Studies; and Patrick Weasel Head (Blackfeet), Director, American Indian Student Services office.
The Center will be a symbol of goodwill and unity. It will provide a bridge for those of both Native American and mainstream cultures to explore the best that each has to offer. For example, respect for elders and history is a Native American value from which American youth can learn; and emphasis on personal goals presents a value of potential benefit to Native Americans.
The building will be built in an environmentally conscientious way: Native gardens will be composed of plants not requiring much water; and LEEDS certification is anticipated.