Early in the semester it was brought to the attention of a few faculty members that there was not a place for Rocky’s Native American students to gather on campus. From this, it was decided that a group focusing on Native American students should be formed.
Montana is home to seven Indian reservations and the state-recognized Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians. Despite the school being located in a state with a large Native American population, Rocky Mountain College does not offer a Native American Studies program. However, this does not mean that the school is uninterested in the culture or its people.
Biecken said, “President Dr. Bob Wilmouth and other administration members suggested starting a Native American student group. RMC administrators would like to improve the recruitment and retention of Native American students, in part by establishing articulation agreements with tribal colleges as well as working with the students currently on Rocky’s campus.”
During new student orientation, a small meeting was held for the new Native American students. Professor Beicken and professor Dundas were in attendance, as well as several new students and two upperclassmen. This meeting provided the foundation for what is now being called, the Native American Student Alliance. After that first meeting the two faculty members and two upperclassmen students began to meet almost weekly to discuss ideas of where to lead Rocky’s Native American students.
As professor Jaquee Dundas stated during one meeting, “We want the students to know that we are here for them. We want them to know that they have support.” As the meetings progressed, professor Shelby Jo Long-Hammond, professor Jim Baken, and Dr. Emily Ward joined in on the sessions. One student who also began to participate in the meetings was junior, Cori Pretty Weasel.
Pretty Weasel is enthusiastic about this future club and believes that it is highly necessary. “Personally, I think it’s important to have a group like this to support each other. College life in general is hard but I think it’s even harder when you are Native. I know for me, not a lot of my community or family is college educated so there’s a disconnect there because not a lot of people understand the sacrifice of getting your degree, actually doing well, and getting good grades. I also feel like it would be great for this group to come together and not only support each other to help graduate but I think in turn it will help set a standard to graduate, a lot of time, that isn’t present in our communities. It perfectly fine for a lot of Natives to drop out of college and return home with no goals in sight. No offense to those that have done that, but it would be great to help avoid that. I think you are more so a product of your expectations than your environment and I think this club can help mold those expectations.”
Discussion continued about what steps needed to be made in order to get the alliance started. One step the faculty members believed needed to be taken was finding a place on campus for students. The faculty members took action and now, the up and coming club has an office located in the basement of Morledge-Kimball Hall. The office will serve as a space for students to meet with one another, complete homework, or to just hang out. Office hours will be posted once of cers for the club are established.
Another step that needed to be taken was bringing all the Native American students together to talk about how they would like to benefit from the club. It was decided that a student mixer would be held in the Great Hall to bring everyone together. The faculty members involved along with both President Bob Wilmouth and Provost Dr. Stephen Germic, attended the mixer to hear the students share. One student that attended was sophomore Melanie Racine. She believed one of the most important things needed was to get all Native American students to know each other on a more personal level in order to establish a strong community. Racine felt this is necessary considering that many Native American students come from small communities. Going from a reservation to a city like Billings can be a huge culture shock.
During the mixer, professor Baken began to share what he envisions for the Native American students and for the college in relation to Native American culture. He hopes in due time that there can be a few Native American culture classes offered at Rocky, more specifically a Native American language class. Baken would also like to bring in Native American artists from the community to share their work and stories with students. The possibility of collaborating with MSUB for its annual pow-wow was also mentioned.
The presence of a group like this on campus is not only beneficial for the students but for the community as well. Biecken stated, “There are many benefits of this group, which are not exclusive to Native American students by any means. Fostering a community of Native American students will provide them with resources that will improve their experiences here at Rocky. Sociology has demonstrated that people perform better and are healthier and happier when they have strong social support and are embedded in a community. For some Native American students, connecting with others who have similar experiences to them will be a positive thing. For the Rocky community on the whole, increased diversity and inclusivity will benefit the students, faculty, and staff alike. Native Americans make up a significant portion of the Montana population and Rocky should be a welcoming place for this group of students while also offering non-Native Americans the opportunity to learn from people with different experiences from their own.” Dr. Beicken will serve as the faculty advisor for the Native American Student Alliance.
Faculty and students will continue to meet and brainstorm potential activities and events for the club. As far as the club is concerned, once it is fully established both Native American and non-Native American students will be able to come together. During the meetings students will be able to discuss what is going on in the Native American community and have the opportunity to listen to Native American guest speakers. A lot of excitement and support is surrounding the club. Those involved are optimistic of the club’s future.