Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

October 28, 2010

Pablo EdPaRT community meeting draws decent crowd

By B.L. Azure

Dr. Joe McDonald, President Emeritus of Salish Kootenai College, dropped by the Ronan EdPaRT and offered a bit of advice on the education process. District 30 Superintendent Andy Holmland (left) and Leslie Caye (center), Indian advisor at Ronan hear McDonald out. (B.L. Azure photo)
Dr. Joe McDonald, President Emeritus of Salish Kootenai College, dropped by the Ronan EdPaRT and offered a bit of advice on the education process. District 30 Superintendent Andy Holmland (left) and Leslie Caye (center), Indian advisor at Ronan hear McDonald out. (B.L. Azure photo)

PABLO — The turnout at the community meetings about the future of the education of members of the Salish, Kootenai and Pend d’Oreille tribal confederacy has been less than the Education Planning and Review Team hoped for. That’s why the more than dozen concerned folks who attended the Pablo community meeting last Wednesday evening was a relatively pleasant surprise.

Leslie Caye, Ronan School District 30 Indian education coordinator, told the folks about the mission of the team. They are reviewing the present state of the education of tribal members in the various school systems on the Flathead Indian Reservation and they are seeking answers to turn around the high drop out rate of members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

“We are reviewing what is being done education-wise within the tribal structure,” Caye said. “Looking at what we presently have and what we need. We want to ensure that all-age learners are given the support required to achieve academically.”

Presently around 50 percent of the tribal member and other American Indian students that enter the first grade on the reservation fail to graduate from the school they entered.

There are some limited answers to the bewildering question of why so few fail to complete the public education process.

In some cases families have moved off the reservation or they were only on the Flathead temporarily while pursuing post high school education at Salish Kootenai College or the families may have moved to another reservation town. However, even with those factors considered the graduation rate remains dismal.

Caye said educational choices on the vast majority of Indian reservations in Montana are limited to one public school located either on or just off the reservation. There are also tribal and/or religious (Catholic) schools on some reservations. However on the Flathead there are numerous public school districts as well as Two Eagle River School. However, that choice has not meant that significantly more Indians graduate from those systems than Indians on other reservations.

SKC President Luana Ross said Indian children need role models in the classrooms. “We need to train more Indian teachers,” she said. “Children learn more when teachers look like them.”

Greg Dupuis told the EdPaRT committee members about his experiences in Polson High School and how it takes various - and sometimes innovative - ways to reach out to and involve children in getting the best out of their educational process. (B.L. Azure photo)
Greg Dupuis told the EdPaRT committee members about his experiences in Polson High School and how it takes various - and sometimes innovative - ways to reach out to and involve children in getting the best out of their educational process. (B.L. Azure photo)

There are around 450 teaching, professional and/or administration positions in the various reservation schools but less than 20 American Indians are employed in those positions.

EdPaRT member THHS Director Kevin Howlett said that the disparity in the reservation school systems was one of the main reasons the EdPaRT was formed with the task of searching for ways to understand and remedy such disparities.

The disparity is also as noticeable in the department Howlett administers. The recently opened THHS clinic Polson created a need for an increased staff. However, Howlett said, “Of the 40 positions that require licensure for hire, few, are held by Native people, very few.”

Time and time again Howlett has appeared before the Tribal Council to request permission to hire non-tribal member for the professional positions within THHS. Doctors, dentists, pharmacists, physical therapists and mental health therapists require years of post high school education.

“If they don’t have a high school diploma, how many of them will go on to college,” Howlett asked, adding that the majority of Indian students don’t take the long difficult educational route to become healthcare professionals.

The average salary of the 40 positions is $90,000 a year.

“That’s the market,” Howlett said. “You pay what the market dictates or they’re not here.”

Also the Flathead Reservation has social and recreational ambiance as well as a relatively decent and varied economy that other reservations lack because of their isolation.

He said that the other Indian reservations in Montana and Wyoming have a 50-percent vacancy rate for doctors. Lack of competitive wages within the Indian Health Service as well as the isolation and lack of social amenities are limiting factors when healthcare providers seek work.

“Many people on those reservations don’t get to see the specialist they need because the IHS wages are not good,” he said.

The lack of an increase in the graduation rate despite several educational choices on the reservation remains mystifying. It’s not nearly as perplexing as the chicken and egg question but it’s similar. What comes first the student or the role model? On the Flathead Reservation it appears that it’s the students are by themselves without role models.

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