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.
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
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)
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
“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
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.