Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

September 23, 2010

College climate: fair with a chance for change and community

By Lailani Upham

President Ross takes in the moment as the Nkwusm students sing their school pledge song, "Amotqn," which translates "Creator." (Lailani Upham photo)President Ross takes in the moment as the Nkwusm students sing their school pledge song, "Amotqn," which translates "Creator." (Lailani Upham photo)

PABLO — “Change” is what’s ahead for Salish Kootenai College, yet one thing remains the same even before the foundation of the college, and that is the culture of Native people – their relationship and their community.

The most upfront understanding change for the college is the new incoming president, Dr. Luana Ross, a professor and co-director with her husband, Daniel Hart of Native Voices, a native film project from the University of Washington.

Ross, a CSKT member, graduated from Ronan High School, went on to receive her bachelor's degree from University of Montana, a master's from Portland State University and a sociology doctorate, from the University of Oregon.

"Creating campus community" is the theme of her new reign, she expressed to the full-packed crowd at the SKC Johnny Arlee/Victor Charlo Theatre last Wednesday.

Ross spoke of the Lakota saying, ‘we are all related' that it expresses how Natives see their communities. “We're always making someone a cousin,” she said. It is an expression that explains the concept of Natives in their communities she addressed.

Ross’ favorite quote from an indigenous researcher, Shawn Wilson, on the concept of relationships says, "Relationships don't shape our reality - they are our reality.”

Bob Fouty, SKC board chairman opened the “doings” with an exhortation on the evolution of change for the SKC. Fouty mentioned he had seen the change not only happening on the SKC campus but in the community as well. “Change is the only constant; it’s part of the process,” he said. “There’s always change, but our mission statement is still the same. Fouty told the crowd of SKC faculty and staff that they were all part of the (change) evolution process. “Last year, we approved four new programs and we have two more in the process. It's all evolution. You've seen what we can do, and we don't just do things, we do things well."

Fouty said a recent concern across campus has been the lack of security. However, he was reminded the years SKC has been in existence — there has never been graffiti on the campus or property. Fouty said although it seems like a small issue; the energy, respect and love that people have on campus is what speaks of the positive energy that has been created by each one at the college. His statement earned a hearty applause.

Ross’s immediate family was seated comfortably front and center of the theatre’s coliseum setting. Her husband, Daniel Hart, sister, Julie Cajune; Cajune’s daughter Sarah Holt; and their mother, Opal Cajune; were all present during the ceremony.

Nkwusm students captivate not only President Ross with a song, but the guests as well. (Lailani Upham photo)Nkwusm students captivate not only President Ross with a song, but the guests as well. (Lailani Upham photo)

St. Ignatius Representative Charlie Morigeau stated he had always believed in education. He told the crowd that he had not received a college degree himself, yet had 6 children go through the doors of SKC.

Arlee Representative James Steele, Jr., raved that SKC was his grounding point in education. He began at the University of Montana after graduating from Arlee High School, but found that the culture shock was to much too bear, with the classrooms being larger than the whole town of Arlee, he said, as the audience chuckled. Steele said he began his commute to SKC in a 1950s pickup truck with a broken tailpipe that announced he, his brother’s and mother’s arrival on campus. After feeling right at home at the tribal college for sometime, Steele went back to UM and finished his degree in Political Science. But SKC is where he was got his bearings and feet on the ground for college, he said.

Before the introduction of Dr. Ross, Dr. Joe McDonald, SKC President emeritus, with over a quarter of century reign, let it be known that he was the second president to serve SKC. Mike O'Donnell, one of the founders of SKC along with McDonald and the late Jerry Slater, was the first to serve as president in the mid-70s, he said. McDonald took the position in 1978, and retired at 77 years old, this year.

Dr. McDonald gave a thorough run-down of Dr. Ross’s credentials and experience. A trained social scientist, Dr. Ross conducts extensive research on the experiences of women in prison, which resulted in a book, "Inventing the Savage", that was awarded the "Best Book of 1998" by the American Political Science Association. Her research and teaching fields are Native Women, Visual Sociology, Criminality/Deviance, Race/Ethnic Relations, and Indigenous Methodology. Dr. Ross received her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Oregon. Dr. Ross is a faculty affiliate of the Indigenous Wellness Research Institute, a center committed to health and wellness in Native communities.

Dr. Ross has been working on two projects: one investigates violence on Tribal College campuses; and another explores digital storytelling as a health intervention in Native communities.

McDonald added that Dr. Ross has been a professor at the University of California Berkley. Dr. Ross was also an associate professor of Women Studies and American Indian Studies at the University of Washington since 1999. She co-directed, with her husband producer and director, Daniel Hart of the Native Voices. Native Voices, is a graduate film program that produces award-winning documentaries screened at Sundance, the American Indian Film Festival, the National Museum of Modern Art, and many other venues. She has helped in producing films such as, "White Shamans, Plastic Medicine Men;" "A Century of Genocide in the Americas: The Residential School Experience;" and the "Place of the Falling Waters." Dr. Ross plans to stay a part of Native Voices while serving SKC.

Dr. McDonald expressed to the large crowd that SKC was fortunate to have her.

Dr. Ross’s philosophy is that education should be transformative and informative. Education should be empowering, she said. Education is something that she credits to changing a small town Ronan girl.

Dr. Ross explained that, “Tribal colleges should especially be restorative.” She shared a quote from the late Cherokee leader, Wilma Mankiller, “The war of children will be won in the classroom.”

As an educator Dr. Ross believes in collaboration efforts. “Everybody, no matter your job, or whether you’re full-time or part-time; we are all valuable and we should work as a team.” Dr. Ross expressed that she is always interested in what is fair and just.

SKC board members Renee Pierre and Tom Acevedo drape a bright red Pendleton blanket over Dr. Luana Ross, as she is inducted into the new presidency role at Salish Kootenai College. (Lailani Upham photo)
SKC board members Renee Pierre and Tom Acevedo drape a bright red Pendleton blanket over Dr. Luana Ross, as she is inducted into the new presidency role at Salish Kootenai College. (Lailani Upham photo)

“Change is inevitable whether leadership changes or not. Change is absolutely vital,” she said. Dr. Ross said she finds change invigorating, and truly exciting and hopes this atmosphere keeps on at SKC.

“I encourage you all: look at this change as an invitation to take part in a very important experience.”

Dr. Waded Cruzado, Montana State University president attended the inauguration as keynote speaker. Dr. Cruzado was sworn in as Montana State University’s 12th president on September 10. She is the first minority and first woman to hold the post at the 117 year-old school.

The ceremony included an opening prayer in Salish by SKC faculty member Alec Quequesah, with singing and drumming by Nkwusm Salish Language Revitalization Institute students of Arlee.

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