When the starry-eyed freshmen and older nontraditional students gathered Wednesday at the Payne Family Native American Center for orientation, they may as well have been strangers on the street.

By the end of the morning, however, the University of Montana’s newest group of Native American students had made new friends and settled some frazzled nerves, just in time for the start of fall classes next week.

Carmaleta Bird In Ground, a Crow elder who sat among them, signed up for writing and several classes in Native American studies. Not only is she a grandmother twice over who started but never completed college, she also speaks Crow, the language of her people, and she’s happy to demonstrate her skills.

“My parents spoke Crow, my grandparents, my siblings,” she said. “I’ve been talking Crow to my daughter’s kids. I’m hoping they would at least understand it and keep it.”

Bird In Ground gave a traditional prayer in Crow on Wednesday to kick off the fourth annual “Moving Camp” orientation for this year’s incoming class of Native American students.

The class has grown in size over the years, making UM a far different place than when Steward Schildt first arrived at campus from Browning several years ago.

“When I got here, only me and a handful of other Indian kids from Browning came to school here,” he said. “I come back and see this new building and these new services. It makes it so much easier for these kids to transition into college.”

Schildt said it may be cliché, but it’s not easy leaving the reservation. Yet in the past few years, he said, it’s become more common to hear other Native Americans discuss the possibility of attending college and following through with their goals.

He sees it as a positive trend and one that continues growing each year. He’s pleased with the ongoing changes taking place at UM, from the new Payne Family Native American Center to the school’s growing American Indian Student Services.

“I can’t believe how many kids just from Browning are going to school now,” said Schildt. “When I graduated, it was a totally different kind of climate. Now, at least in Browning, Indian kids have accepted that other Indian kids are going to go to college.”


Fredricka Hunter, director of American Indian Student Services, said about 250 new Native American students were admitted to UM this year. Not all will attend, but about 130 are expected to start classes Monday.

Hunter and her staff look to make the transition to college, both culturally and academically, as easy on students as possible.

“They’re coming from a very tight-knit community and we want to provide those support resources to them,” Hunter said. “Just navigating campus can be difficult – the registration, the financial aid. You don’t know the process and sometimes you miss the deadlines and timelines.”

UM President Royce Engstrom welcomed the students to campus, accompanied by members of his administrative Cabinet, including the dean of students, the vice president for student affairs and the provost.

Engstrom said as many as 700 Native Americans attend the university at any given time, making it the largest gathering of Indian students in the state. He named student success as the university’s primary goal.

“This is such an exciting time of year,” Engstrom told the group. “This university thrives on diversity of thought and student ideas. We’re delighted to have people who can bring different voices to the table.”

Arriving at campus to face their first semester at UM filled some with angst, including Donelle Williams, a Montana State University-Northern transfer student from Fort Belknap.

But Wednesday’s “Moving Camp” for Native Americans included anxiety-easing sessions on handling money, community life, student services and activities aimed at team building.

After a session of games on the Oval, the students were more at ease, even if their parents were not, including the mother of John Marshall.

“It’s just the distance, but he has a friend from town that’s going to be a sophomore here, and that’s a little anxiety relief right there,” said Barbara Marshall, whose lineage ties her family to the Muscogee Creek Nation in Oklahoma.

“He chose Montana based on an interview he had at a college fair,” she added. “He’s into the outdoors and wanted to go out of state.”

Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260 or at martin.kidston@missoulian.com.

(8) comments


Montanans need to get real, I spent a full week on the Blackfoot Res doing an electric distribution survey. It was very enlightening. It was like a Third World Country in many ways, or parts of Southern Mexico that I had been to long ago. It is a very different culture and different way of thinking and living. Those Native Blackfoot that did well, were the ones that left the Res for years and then came back. My guide and guard on the survey was a full blood Blackfoot that had been in the USAF for years and then came back to Browning. Those that never leave are the ones steeped in poverty and neglect.


So mike if no one else was here before native americans and the term america was invented after the people migrated here then what do you call those people and their ancestors today?

Stillmike Miller
Stillmike Miller

One again, college educated reporters, get the facts right. These peoples are NOT native to this land. They did NOT magically spring from the ground. Their ancestors DID wander here from other continents as history and science have proven.


So mike if no one else was here before native americans and the term america was invented after the people migrated here then what do you call those people and their ancestors today?

Stillmike Miller
Stillmike Miller

Northwoods, to help you with understanding the ancestry of American Indians, here are several sources of scientific references for you: http://www.google.com/#hl=en&output=search&sclient=psy-ab&q=where+did+american+indians+come+from&oq=american+indians+come+from&gs_l=hp.1.1.0i30j0i5l8.2016.11313.1.24578.,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.&fp=39ecb6b45886a9c8&biw=1024&bih=500

Also, here is the definition of Immigrant for you: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/immigrant

Now, here is the definition of "native": http://www.merriam-webster.com/medical/native

To state one group of peoples is "native" to this soil, while others are not, when in fact all of our ancestors came from other countries, is both ignorant and racist.


Thomas, there are many reasons people thrive in college or not. A reason many natives dont make it in college is because they are brought up in a family atmosphere where everyone supports the household. Leaving that family structure implies you are doing your family harm, and causes guilt and great stress even if mom dad grandpa grandma says everything will be ok. And if the goal is to get a degree to earn a better living then it must be a degree that can be used to further themselves on the reservation, because it doesnt do the family any good by leaving the reservation for a career. So just because an education is paid for doesnt mean a person will succeed in college, it in fact probably has little to do with native graduation success. Now if going to college meant your family got a stipend for food, gas, clothing, and to help pay the light bill every month then I think more natives would stay in college and graduate. My two cents, and my own experience!


I have always wondered why the graduation rate for natives has been so historically low in Montana? School is virtually free for them. In the pictures accompanying the story, there were too many empty seats if 130 newbie natives are starting school. How many new students attended the Moving Camp? The reporter flubbed that basic fact. Also the indian student stats seemed equivocal. Some people say the blame for failure of the indian students' success lies with the extended family on the rez drawing them back, fully supporting a quitter mentality. Misery loves company.

Students with little or no english, routinely come to Missoula from all over the world, go to class, get a degree, and return to Africa or Asia. This has been true at the U of M for 100 years. Why does a student from Browning or Crow Agency seem to have more trouble succeeding than one from Kenya or Botswanna? The student from Browning knows american culture, speaks the language, and is fully supported financially. It is up to indians to figure it out, isn't it? Maybe the Payne center is part of the answer.

And Governor Brian Schweitzer's recent speech to the Ohio Democratic Convention shows he spends too much time in low places if he hears that much racism against indians expressed in his presence. Why do your friends feel so comfortable commenting on race relations around you Guv? Do you deny ever telling a joke that ends with the punchline 'prairie ni**er' at a private fund raiser in 2008 in Great Falls MT?


A student from Browning may not necessarily know American Culture. A reservation is much different from America. Going to a university a Native American is going to experience culture shock. The extended family does not draw people back. Native people have very strong bonds with their families. People in "America" may not be able to relate to this. A student from Botswanna or Kenya may not have strong family ties as Natives do, but I do not know much of their culture.
130 new Native American students is a good number considering their are much less of us in "America".
As far as being able to go to school for almost nothing, this is also not true. My tuition is far more than $10000 a semester, probably more than most Caucasians pay!
Another note on extended family. My first year here at the University I wanted to move back home, but my family urged me to stay! Most families do so. We are not miserable, we are closely connected people. We have respect for each other and would do anything for each other.

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