College climate: fair with a
chance for change and community
By Lailani Upham
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)
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,
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
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
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.
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
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.