Tribes looking for ways to increase professionally educated tribal members for its workforce
By B.L. Azure
Arlee teacher Frances Vanderburg recounts some of her experiences in
education at the Arlee public meeting on Indian education of the
Flathead Reservation. (B.L. Azure photo)
ARLEE — The employment infrastructure of the Confederated Salish and
Kootenai Tribes is a smorgasbord of jobs ranging from the semi-skilled
to the highly educated professional. Most require some type of training
or education in order to be considered for the job.
at times numerous jobs available within the tribal system but time and
time again department heads and/or program managers have to go to the
Tribal Council to request permission to hire non-members because the
tribal member application pool lacks the desired qualified applicants.
Sometimes where possible the job requirements are pared down in order
to hire tribal members. However that is not always possible especially
in the professional degree areas in the medical and engineering
Consequently the Tribal Council grants the permission to hire
non-members, mostly under a contract that ranges from one year to three
or four, depending upon the profession.
In an effort to
dovetail employment opportunities with required educational background
the Tribal Council met with tribal education specialists and some
department heads in November. They set a course to develop strategies
for increasing the recruitment and graduation rate of tribal members.
The goal is to work with Flathead Indian Reservation school districts
to ferret out ways to best reach and educate Indian children in
preparation for post high school education.
"They Tribal Council is on board with this," said Kevin
Howlett, director of the Tribal Health and Human Services and a member
of the Education Planning and Review Team (EdPaRT). "They are
Howlett said that 50 percent of the Indian students who enter
the first grade in Flathead Indian Reservation public schools don't
graduate. And post high school education is just as bleak if not
"Very few of the graduates go on to college," Howlett
said. "Very, very few of those who do go on to college take the hard
courses. The result is there are no pools of Indian medical
professionals out there."
Howlett said that there weren't any Indian medical
professionals who applied for the medical positions at the recently
opened THHS clinic in Polson. As a result he found himself before the
Tribal Council requesting permission to hire non-CSKT members or
descendents for the highly skilled professions at the clinic.
The CSKT are currently in discussions with PPL Montana about
the potential purchase of Kerr Dam in 2015. Operating and managing the
facility requires both business and technical/professional education as
well as on the job experience.
Howlett said that there are not
a lot of college-educated engineers who are tribal members or
descendents to draw from. One professionally trained tribal member
engineer, Brian Lipscomb, recently accepted a position with the CSKT as
its new energy department.
"The long term solution is to grow
your own," Howlett said, adding that a tribal member graduating from
high school this school year would have about 12 years of college
professional education plus residency before they could be considered
for a physician's position within THHS. "Even if we started today with
recruitment of that senior it would be at least a decade or more before
they could practice medicine here."
Howlett said that recruitment theoretically has to start when
children start school in the first grade. Students with the aptitude
should then be guided to take the necessary public school courses in
order to make the college transition easier.
"We have to start
somewhere, not as a senior in high school but in elementary school,"
Howlett said. "It is a long term process that would require constant
interaction between the Tribes, the parents and the schools. Ultimately
it's the school boards we have to work with. That takes structure and
Howlett said the educators at each of the various public
schools as well as Two Eagle River School educating students according
to their specific goals and accountability to funding sources. He
suggested that they all be brought under one umbrella to address the
high drop out rate of Indian students and to map strategies to improve
the graduation rate and to arm graduates with a quality education that
morphs easily with the step up to college.
"We need a concentrated effort. One board of education that oversees everything," he said. "We need a liaison in every school."
Leslie Caye, Indian Education Specialist at Ronan, cautioned against trying to force anything on school districts.
"Each district is autonomous of the other. You need to create a
good one-on-one relationship with them before you try to infuse this on
them," Caye said. "You just can't tell them what to do."
Howlett said the intent is not to force things on school
districts but to work with them cooperatively to improve retention and
graduation of Indian students.
Superintendent of Ronan School District 30, Andy Holmlund said
the best route for Indians to work the schools is for Indian people to
serve on their local school boards.
The next public meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, October 6,
at the Tribal Health and Human Services Diabetes Center. Dinner will be
served at 5:30 p.m. and the presentation begins at 6 p.m.