Salish Kootenai College in Pablo, Montana is now offering degrees in Tribal Historic Preservation. The instructor, Dr. Jeffrey Bendremer says, “It’s the first program of its type anywhere. I believe it’s historic.”
Four students completed their associate’s degrees this year and were honored at graduation on June 9. All four plan to continue on and receive a bachelor’s in the program.
“It’s a great program for people who want to do the right thing for their tribe and take care of their people,” said Kathryn McDonald, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
Angela Iukes, Colville Confederated Tribes, added, “Jeff is such a nice guy. I like the way he thinks when he says he has so much hope for us. His goal is to get many more Native students into this field of work.”
Tribal historic preservation is a four-year program, but since many students may not want to go for the full four years, school officials decided to offer both an associate’s and a bachelor’s degree.
Bendremer said the program is different from other Native American studies programs. “It’s pretty unique. It doesn’t exist anywhere else. It’s based on Native American studies but is also very multi-disciplinary and has a great deal of history, anthropology and archaeology, environmental science courses and Native language courses. In fact, we require more Native language than any other major at the college, including Native American studies.”
He said the advisory committee, which helped design the curriculum, was made up of mostly Natives and he kept hearing from them about the importance of language—not only preserving Native language, but also using it as a means to understand the past. The curriculum requires students to take six language courses. The first three have to be either Salish or Kootenai but the rest can be either intermediate or advanced Salish or Kootenai, or it can be another qualified language course.
“We want to give them the opportunity to study the language that will be most helpful in their career while still fulfilling our mission to preserve and protect Salish and Kootenai culture. We have that dual mission,” Bendremer said.
He said the program is also intended to qualify them for jobs. “First and foremost in tribal governments, either being tribal historic preservation officers or part of the staffs of tribal historic preservation offices. We also see them getting jobs in tribal museums or cultural departments.”
In addition, numerous federal agencies employ archaeologists. Two of the four students who recently received their associate’s degrees have internships this summer. Nukinka Manuel will work with the cultural resource people in Glacier National Park and Regina Mad Plume will be at the Missoula office of the Bureau of Land Management. Other students have signed up for an indigenous archaeology field school being offered by Salish Kootenai College.
Iukes said her main thought was to work with museums. She would like to see a larger museum built on the Colville Confederated Tribes reservation. “Our tribe is so big with so many bands. It would be nice if we could have sections dedicated to each of them.”
McDonald would also like to stay with her tribe. “I think it’s important to take the right steps for my people in preserving what we have left. Language is very important to the tribe and important to my family.” But if that doesn’t work out, “I’m just as excited to work with anybody else.”
“We have amazing students,” Bendremer said. “They are strongly dedicated to protecting and preserving the historic and cultural resources of their tribes. I’m so proud of our students who graduated. I really think they’re headed toward great things.”