At first he wasn’t even going to go to college, but according to a story in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, it was because of a promise he made to his mother, a Turtle Mountain Chippewa tribal member, who worked as a waitress and maid her whole life, that he started classes at Northern Montana College in Havre.
From there he went on to get a Bachelor of Science degree in film and television from Montana State University, but his real passion ended up being in education.
“I fell in love with higher education,” Wayne Stein told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.
Since 2001 Stein has been a professor of Native American Studies at Montana State University in Bozeman. He even served as the department head during a critical time. But, after 24 years, at the age of 62, he’s decided it’s time to retire.
The current Native American Studies Department head, Walter Fleming, told the Chronicle, that Stein is “kind of like the grandfather or father of our program.”
Stein said that in the ‘70s there were only about 35 Native American students at Montana State University, Fleming said that number has now grown to be about 575 Native students. When Stein attended the university there wasn’t even a Native American Studies Department.
By the time he graduated in 1973, he was “hooked” on education, he told the Chronicle. He said education used to be utilized like a “blunt tool to hammer Indian people” but now “education could be a tool Indian people could use to change their circumstances.”
So he continued his education at Pennsylvania State University, where he earned a master’s degree in educational administration. He taught in Arizona and served as president of Sitting Bull College, a tribal college in Fort Yates North Dakota, before earning his doctorate in higher education at Washington State University in 1988.
It was Fleming who convinced Stein to come back to Montana State University in 1989 to teach and work with tribal colleges, reported the Chronicle.
Stein spent 10 years raising money for an endowed chair in Native American studies and the program went from being a center to a department in 2003.
“We couldn’t have done it without our non-Indian friends,” Stein told the Chronicle about the growth of the department.
His accomplishments will be recognized with an honor dance at the 38th annual Montana State University American Indian Council Pow Wow, which will be held April 12-13 at the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse.
The event is free and open to the public. For more information about the Pow Wow visit the Montana State University website.