Focus on American Indian Youth During Suicide Prevention Month

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Throughout the month, mental health advocates, prevention organizations, survivors, allies, and community members will unite to engage the general public about suicide prevention and the ways we publicly invest in suicide prevention efforts.

For almost forty years, Montana has had one of the highest suicide rates in the country. Death by suicide among non-Native populations peaks in older adulthood, whereas suicide among Native populations peaks during adolescence. In Montana, American Indian youth are almost four times more likely to die by suicide than their white counterparts.

Youth suicidal risk assessments for 2015 show that urban-residing American Indian youth consistently outscored reservation-residing American Indian youth in risk behaviors such as seriously considering, planning, and attempting suicide. In April we published a report Indian Country Suicide Prevention: A Critical investment in Our Communities, where you can find more information about American Indian suicide rates in Montana.

Montana’s staggering statistics, especially among American Indian youth, warrant a serious investment and should be a priority for the state of Montana.

In 2013, the Montana Legislature established the first suicide mortality review team of its kind in order to review every suicide death in an attempt to identify specific causes and tailor prevention efforts accordingly. Two years later, Governor Bullock developed an initiative to reduce suicide among Native American youth in Montana, securing $250,000 through the legislature.

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) began efforts with a formal tribal consultation, which evolved into a statewide coalition meeting in order to develop a strategic plan. The Montana Native Youth Suicide Reduction Strategic Plan is the result of the coalition and Governor’s efforts in 2015, which was presented to state officials in January 2017.

During the 2017 session, several bills were proposed to confront the suicide epidemics among American Indians, veterans, Native youth and at-risk Montana communities. Ultimately, the Governor signed a bill to allocate $1 million for suicide prevention efforts through 2019.

This month is a time for us to consider how we invest in our most important resource: our fellow Montanans – and especially our youth. To get involved, check out your local newspaper for details on activities and events happening in your area.

Report Preview: Taxes in Indian Country

Few people understand the nuances of how taxes work in Indian Country. As a result, taxation authority in Indian Country has been one of the most litigated issues between tribes, states, and local governments. Furthermore, there is much misinformation and many missed opportunities for innovative and mutually beneficial inter-governmental collaborations that respect tribal sovereignty.

MBPC is pleased to bring you a series of Policy Basics reports that break down this complex issue. This blog provides an overview of Part 1 and the taxes that individual American Indians in Montana pay. You can get all the details by reading our full report, which will be released early next week. Tribal governments and the taxes they pay and assess will be the focus of Part 2, which will be released later this fall.

Taxes and Individual Tribal Members

According to the U.S. Constitution’s supremacy clause, the Constitution, federal laws, and treaties override conflicting state laws. Additionally, a variety of U.S. Supreme Court rulings have recognized the absolute power of Congress to regulate Indian affairs and property. Altogether, this means that in most instances state and local governments cannot tax tribal members, tribal governments, or their property. However, tribal members living or working off their own reservation are subject to state and local tax laws.

In generally, individual tribal members are subject to federal income taxes. American Indians are also subject to state income taxes if they live or work off the reservation. Regardless of residence, American Indians pay into social security and Medicare, referred to as Federal Insurance Contributions Act, or FICA, taxes.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that tribal members must pay state and local property taxes on their privately owned land held in fee simple status, even if their property is located on their reservation. Likewise, tribal members are also subject to all state motor vehicle taxes if they live off the reservation where they are enrolled. Regardless of residence, all tribal members in Montana must pay vehicle registration fees consisting of vehicle registration, vehicle disposal, weed control, county motor vehicle computer, and where applicable, the gross vehicle weight fees.

Tribal and state governments have each asserted their right to collect excise taxes on reservations, leading to years of costly litigation and tension. As a result, the state of Montana and the seven reservation tribal governments have negotiated a variety of revenue sharing agreements for excise taxes on alcohol, tobacco, and fuel (and in once instance oil and natural gas taxes). The goal of these agreements is to “prevent the possibility of dual taxation by governments while promoting state, local, and tribal economic development.”

Therefore, American Indians in Montana pay excise (or sales) taxes on alcohol, tobacco, and fuel that they purchase. The single exception is members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT), who do not pay the state tax on cigarettes they purchase on the Flathead Reservation. Because of this, the CSKT government does not receive a remittance share of this particular tax from the state; instead, they receive a limited number of tax-free cigarettes according to quotas set by Montana law. However, any sales above the quota are taxed.

Below is a visual snapshot of the taxes that individual American Indians in Montana pay. The yes-no answers paint a clear picture of what in reality is a complex statutory issue that is still being worked out between governments, Congress, and the courts.

AI taxes









It is important for policymakers and the broader public to understand how taxes work in Indian Country. This can reduce tensions and help maximize the potential for innovative and mutually beneficial inter-governmental collaborations that respect tribal sovereignty. Check out our blog early next week for Part 1 and stay tuned for more information on taxes and tribal governments, coming this fall in Part 2.

Indian Country Suicide Prevention Receives Attention and Investment

Maybe it’s our relative isolation and inability to easily access sufficient mental and behavior healthcare. Or maybe it’s the elevation or the sigma we often associate with depression. Whatever the reason, Montana has had one of the highest suicide rates in the country for almost forty years.

According to a report by the Montana Department of Health and Human Services, Montana ranked first in the nation for suicides in 2014. Nationally, whites have the highest rate of suicide, followed by American Indians. In Montana, this trend is reversed. Between 2014 and 2015, the American Indian suicide rate was 35.5 (per 100,000 people) compared to 28.1 for whites.

The same report notes that American Indian youth ages 11-17 are especially at risk. In fact, they are almost four times more likely to die by suicide than their white counterparts in Montana. Further, youth suicidal risk assessments for 2015 also show that American Indian youth living in urban areas are more likely than reservation-residing American Indian youth to seriously consider, plan, and attempt suicide.

We know that suicide has been a major public health concern in Montana for years, and particularly in Indian Country. This is why we applaud the legislature’s recent passage of House Bill 118, which invests $1 million in statewide suicide prevention efforts. Of this, $250,000 goes expressly to implement the action steps outlined in the Montana Native Youth Suicide Reduction Plan (MNYSRP). The Indian-owned consulting firm, Kauffman & Associates, in collaboration with both reservation and urban-based tribal communities in Montana, as well as the five urban Indian Health organizations created MNYSRP. MNYSRP came about as a result of an initiative developed by Governor Bullock in 2015, which was funded through the 64th Montana Legislative session.

An official bill signing has been scheduled for Tuesday, April 25, 2017 at 3pm.

Timeline of Meaningful Developments in the State-Tribal Relationship

Today at 1 pm at the State Capitol, CSKT Tribal Chairman Dr. Vernon Finley will deliver this year’s State of the Tribal Nations Address to members of both chambers of the state legislature, as well as top state officials. This occasion provides us with a great reason to review the meaningful developments in the relationship between tribal nations and the state of Montana.*

1951 – Montana Legislature creates the Coordinator of Indian Affairs position in recognition of the need for American Indians to communicate with state government.

1972 – Montana Constitution is revised in its entirety and includes the addition of Article 10, Section 1(2), which states that “the state recognizes the distinct and unique cultural heritage of the American Indians and is committed in its educational goals to the preservation of their cultural integrity.”

1981 – Montana Legislature enacts the State-Tribal Cooperative Agreements Act, authorizing public agencies to enter into cooperative agreements with tribal governments.

1989 – Montana Legislature establishes the Committee on Indian Affairs, now called the State Tribal Relations Interim Committee to act as a liaison with tribal governments, encourage state-tribal and local-tribal cooperation, propose legislation, conduct interim studies and report its findings and make recommendations to the legislature.

1995 – State Tribal Relations Interim Committee publishes The Tribal Nations of Montana: A Handbook for Legislators to educate legislators about tribal culture, sovereignty, and government policies related to American Indians in Montana.

1995 – Montana Legislature passes House Bill 544, sponsored by Representative Carley Tuss and codified as MCA 20-25-428, to appropriate $1.4 million to go towards reimbursing tribal colleges for educational services provided to resident non-Indian students. This would later become known as the Tribal College Assistance Program.

1997 – Montana Legislature passes Senate Bill 84, sponsored by Senator Greg Jergeson, to make permanent the Tribal College Assistance Program, though the funding distribution remains contingent upon a line item appropriation.

1999 – Montana Legislature passes the Native American Economic Development Act, launching the State Tribal Economic Development (STED) Commission. The commission is comprised of eleven representatives from the eight tribal governments in Montana is responsible for assisting, promoting, developing, and proposing recommendations for accelerating on-reservation economic development.

2003 – Montana Legislature passes House Bill 608, sponsored by Representative Jonathan Windy Boy and codified as MCA 2-15-142, 143. HB 608 creates mechanisms for holding the state accountable to Indian tribes and formulates the principles that should guide the state-tribal governmental relationship.

2005 – Governor Brian Schweitzer creates – via his first executive order – the Governor’s American Indian Nations Council (GAIN) to ensure that all activities conducted between tribal nations and the state are conducted in a government-to-government manner and that state agency activities with tribes include tribal consultation.

2005 – Governor Brian Schweitzer’s administration creates the GAIN database to track the extent of the state’s involvement with tribal governments.

2005 – Governor Brian Schweitzer convenes the first-ever state-sponsored meeting of tribal leaders, regional directors of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Service, and key members of his staff and state agencies to begin creating innovative solutions to some of the issues identified as priorities by tribal nations in Montana.

2005 – Montana Legislature approves Governor Brian Schweitzer’s executive budget request for $3.2 million for fulfilling the state constitutional mandate articulated in Article 10, Section 1(2), today known as Indian Education for All.

2005 – Montana Legislature approves Governor Brian Schweitzer’s executive budget request of $1 million for Indian Country economic development to support tribal nations in taking advantage of existing and potential economic opportunities on their reservations. The program has since been expanded and is now called the Indian Country Economic Development (ICED) program and remains contingent upon a line item appropriation.

2006 – Governor Brian Schweitzer grants official state recognition to the Little Shell Tribe, a declaration that honored the 2003 landmark Montana Supreme Court ruling in Koke v. Little Shell Tribe.

2007 – Montana Legislature makes permanent the State Tribal Economic Development (STED) Commission.

2009 – Montana Legislature passes House Bill 158, sponsored by Representative Shannon Augare, to allow tribal governments the ability to access all economic development grants and loans available under the Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund, originally created in 2005.

2009 – Montana Legislature passes House Bill 193, sponsored by Representative Shannon Augare and codified as MCA 2-15-102, to change the title of the Coordinator of Indian Affairs to Director of Indian Affairs, making the position commensurate with other positions in the Governor’s cabinet.

2010 – Governor Brian Schweitzer hosts the first Tribal Leaders Summit, now held annually, to encourage state-tribal dialogue and to strengthen the government-to-government relationship between the state and tribes.

2013 – Montana Legislature passes Senate Bill 342, sponsored by Senator Jonathan Windy Boy and codified as MCA 20-9-537, to provide $2 million for the Montana Indian Language Preservation Pilot Program, to preserve and perpetuate tribal languages and creating a historic partnership between the state, tribal educators, organizations and governments.

2014 – Governor Steve Bullock launches his Main Street Montana in Indian Country initiative to work with tribal governments to increase educational and workforce development opportunities, develop reservation infrastructure, increase access to capital, and promote economic growth on reservations.

2015 – Montana Legislature passes House Bill 559, sponsored by Representative George Kipp, III, which appropriates an additional $1.5 million to continue the accomplishments of the Montana Indian Language Program into the 2017 biennium.

2015 – Montana Legislature passes Senate Bill 307, sponsored by Senator Sharon Stewart-Peregoy, to require the state to recognize tribal business entities organized under the laws of a federally recognized tribe in Montana.

2016 – Governor Steve Bullock creates the Office of American Indian Health to work in close collaboration with tribes to address health disparities among the American Indian population in Montana and bring about health equity.

The relationship between the state and the eight tribal governments in Montana continues to progress. Although this relationship can be contentious at times, we are at the forefront in terms of tribes and states working together to advance their common goals of meeting the basic needs of their shared citizens and strengthening their shared economies. Tune in today for Chairman Finley’s address at 1:00pm in the House chambers or listen to it live here.


*Note: There are three criteria for inclusion on this timeline. The relationship development must: (1) impact all the tribes in Montana; (2) be new (versus a continuation of support for a previous development); and (3) concern tribes and not individual tribal members.

Devolution: Another Reason Tribes and States Should Work Together

The start of the 2017 Montana legislative session is a great time to talk about two major incentives for state and tribal governments to work together to address mutual concerns—devolution and overlapping areas of governmental responsibility.

The term “devolution” stems from the so-called New Federalism reforms of the 1990’s and refers to the practice of devolving federal resources and administrative responsibility of federal programs to tribes, states, and local governments.

The intent of these policies was partly to give local governments greater freedom in determining how best to meet the needs of their respective citizens. However, they also allowed for the diminishment of federal administrative and fiscal responsibility for those programs; or in other words, they were tied to decreases in federal aid. Because of this—and the fact that an array of state and tribal governmental activities, programs, and responsibilities overlap—there is a great incentive for tribes and states to work collaboratively to maximize the impact of their available resources.

For tribes, devolution was largely evidenced in the passage of the Tribal Self-Governance Act of 1996, giving tribes the ability to compact management of one or more federal programs serving their reservations and the freedom to redesign the programs and reallocate funds for these efforts.

For states, devolution was seen primarily in the area of welfare reform. In 1996, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act transferred financial resources and authority for federal income assistance programs to states. This transfer generally took the form of federal block grants to states for providing public services.

Some of these funds are passed through to tribal and local governments, who are eligible to administer a small number of programs.

According to a 2015 Center for Budget and Policy Priorities analysis of the 13 major housing, health, and social services block grant programs, funding for all but one has shrunk in inflation-adjusted terms since their inception—and in some cases, dramatically. Since 2000, the combined funding for the 13 block grants fell by 27 percent, or $14 billion in 2015 dollars.

In addition, block grant funding often cannot adjust to changes in need. Programs like SNAP (formally food stamps) grow by need. In block grants, the funding levels are set, so if a recession occurs and more people need help, the program must make the tough choice between serving fewer people and reducing the services per person to serve more people.


For both tribes and states, funding shortfalls complicate the administrative freedom that results from devolution. These decreases in overall program aid have put pressure on both tribal and state governments to either find ways to supplement program budgets or cut services for those programs—or sometimes both.

Thus, tribes and states have a vested interest in collaborating to maximize their resources when working to achieving some very significant mutual goals, including addressing the basic needs of their shared citizens and strengthening their shared economies.

Health Care in Indian Country: How Medicaid Expansion Can Help

Contemporary American Indian health concerns have been the topic of a four-part newspaper series by Billings Gazette journalist Jayme Fraser. The articles shed light on the decades-long issue of health disparities that are largely grounded in the inability of the Indian Health Service to meet the health care needs of American Indians. They also review various efforts to improve Indian health currently being undertaken by tribes, individual tribal health/IHS facility administrators, and public and private entities, particularly through nationwide healthcare reforms made available through the Affordable Care Act.

One of those measures encouraged states to expand the income eligibility requirements for Medicaid, which the Montana legislature did in 2015. After that, people earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level could enroll in Medicaid. This extended critical health care coverage to an estimated 19,547 American Indians in Montana.

Between November 2, 2015, when enrollment began, and September 1, 2016, the number of newly eligible American Indians who enrolled in Medicaid stands at 6,737, or 30 percent of the total number eligible. American Indian enrollment steadily increases each month, though the rate at which they are enrolling is beginning to slow slightly, demonstrating the need for a more concerted outreach and enrollment effort.

Our latest report details some of the ways outreach and enrollment workers can maximize their success in Indian Country. It is paramount that those engaged in coverage enrollment efforts understand the intricacies of how American Indians access health care. For example, knowing that American Indians have historically tended not to have health insurance, relying instead on the Indian Health Service, helps explain why American Indians may be less inclined to explore other coverage options.

Likewise, having an understanding of the historical and contemporary basis of IHS and being able to articulate the precise benefits of having Medicaid coverage are also necessary. It is also important to know the barriers the eligible demographic faces in accessing information and completing the enrollment process.

Besides supporting current outreach and enrollment efforts, the single most important thing the state can do to help the remaining eligible American Indians access the critical health care they need is to maintain the current eligibility requirements included in the HELP Act.

MBPC’s Montana Indian Country Index

Number of federally recognized tribes in Montana : 11

Number of state recognized tribes : 1

Number of Indian reservations : 7

Year the Sioux, Gros Ventre, Assiniboine, Blackfeet, Crow, and Cheyenne territories were officially recognized by a single treaty with the U.S. government : 1851

Year the first two reservations were formally established : 1855

Year Montana became a state : 1889

Number of treaties signed by the Cheyenne : 8

Number of treaties signed by tribes now located in Montana that were never ratified by Congress : 6

Year the last reservation in Montana was created : 1916

Number of reservations in Montana created by treaty : 3

Number created by executive order : 3

Number created by Congressional statute : 1

Number of tribal nations in Montana that reorganized their governing structure under the terms of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act : 5

Number of tribes that have received Self-Governance status : 2

Number currently operating under a 501(c)(3) status : 1

Percentage of the Montana population that was American Indian prior to 1805 : 100

Percentage in 2015 : 6.6

Percentage of Rocky Boy’s Reservation residents who were non-Indian in 2000 : 3.7

Percentage on Flathead : 73.3

Percentage of American Indians who resided in urban areas in Montana in 2000 : 41.6

Percentage of American Indians working off-reservation who pay state income taxes : 100

Percentage of all working American Indians in Montana who pay federal income taxes : 100

American Indian median household income in 2014 : $30,284

Average number of dollars brought into Montana by tribes annually between 2003 and 2009 : $947,727,265

Number of dollars contributed to the Montana economy by tribal colleges in 2009 : $76,200,000

Number of 2-year degree programs offered at Fort Peck Community College : 18

Number of 4-year degree programs offered at Salish Kootenai College : 14

Percentage of full-time students enrolled at Salish Kootenai College in 2014 who were non-Indian : 23.7

Percentage of non-Indian students enrolled at Blackfeet Community College in 2015 : 4

Percentage of inmates serving time in the state prison in 2014 who were American Indian : 27.7

Times greater that American Indians are represented in the prison population than in the state population : 4.2

Number of American Indians serving in the state legislature in 2015 : 8

Percentage that are female : 63

Average life expectancy of American Indian women in Montana in 2013 : 62

Average life expectancy of American Indian men in Montana : 56

Average life expectancy of a non-Indian man in Montana : 75

Median age of American Indians in Montana : 29

Sources cited are available here. 


Pow Wows Bring Culture and Economic Bursts to Communities

American Indian pow wows are many things. They are reflections of both traditional and contemporary tribal cultures. They are spectacular displays of athleticism, craftsmanship, and a distinctive style of music and singing abilities. But they are also events that spark short-term economic growth for local and neighboring communities. This blog reports on the economic impacts of three diverse pow wows in our state: the Arlee Celebration, located on the Flathead Reservation; MSU-Bozeman’s large off-reservation pow wow; and Poplar Indian Days, located on the remote Fort Peck Reservation.

While several factors play into economic impact, pow wows are often categorized as cultural tourism for the fact that they bring in numerous out-of-towners—spectators, dancers, drummers, and oftentimes hand game contestants—all of whom leave their money in the local economy. Two key factors that play into the level of attendance (and corresponding economic impact) are location and whether or not the pow wow is a contest pow wow. Some pow wows are small social gatherings and celebrations. But many, including a majority of the larger ones, are contests, meaning they feature highly competitive dance and drumming competitions where winners are awarded cash prizes. In these cases, payout amounts and the notoriety of head staff and host drum can all affect turnout and therefore economic impact.

The Arlee Celebration is now in its 118th year and, according to Pow Wow Committee Chairman Willie Stevens, brings in approximately 5,000-6,000 spectators, 2,000-3,000 campers in about 500 camps, 500 dancers, 240 drummers, 300-600 hand game contestants, 20 food stand vendors, 20 arts and crafts venders, and 10 non-profit information booths. Stevens reports that this influx of people benefits “all local businesses from grocery stores to gas station to restaurants and any tourist shops and casinos.” This economic boost impacts not only the Flathead Reservation’s Jocko and Mission valleys, but also the greater western Montana region, including Missoula, as food vendors and many of the campers get their supplies and other items there.

The Arlee pow wow is unique in terms of its economic impact on multiple communities. While the impact of MSU-Bozeman’s pow wow is largely confined to the city of Bozeman, it is still notable. Richard White, pow wow advisor and director of American Indian/Alaska Native Student Success at MSU-Bozeman, reports that their free-admission/registration pow wow attracts between 2,500-4,000 spectators, 200-300 dancers, 200-250 drummers, 45-60 vendors, many of whom utilize local services like hotels, restaurants, gas stations. They also take advantage of local attractions and the shopping available in one of the few urban centers in Montana.

Smaller pow wows held at more remote locations like Poplar Indian Days on Fort Peck have a smaller overall impact but still work to spark economic growth. Greg and Mary Plante and Raymond “Abby” Ogle, who work to plan the pow wow, estimate that it brings into Poplar about 2,000-3,000 spectators, half of whom are reservation residents. They also estimate that it draws between 120-150 drummers, 200-350 dancers, and 12-15 vendors. They believe that these additional consumers positively impact the economic climate of the tiny town of Poplar, which usually boasts a population count of 810 residents.

pow wow pic

2015 Kyi-Yo Grand Entry. Photo courtesy of UM Kyi-Yo Native American Student Association.

While pow wows are primarily about bringing people together to celebrate tribal culture, family and friends, they also have an economic impact by creating varying degrees of economic growth across our state. Every reservation hosts one or more pow wows, as do many of our urban centers with sizeable Native populations. All pow wows are open to the general public and a majority of them do not charge admission. Pow wows run throughout the summer months and are a great way to see our state. They’re also an opportunity to support local businesses, including those that are Indian owned. To find a list of Indian owned businesses, check out the Montana Indian Business Alliance’s website.

MBPC encourages you to check out a pow wow near you. If you are new to pow wows, check out “Your Guide to Understanding and Enjoying Pow Wows.” It is a great tool to learning about pow wows in Montana.

Calendar of Montana Pow Wows

  • MSU-Bozeman American Indian Council Pow Wow: March 25-26, 2016, Bozeman
  • MSU-Billings Pow Wow: April 8, 2016, Billings
  • UM Kyi-Yo Pow Wow: April 22-23, 2016, Missoula
  • 118th Arlee Celebration: June 29-July 4, 2016, Arlee
  • Northern Cheyenne 4th of July Chiefs Pow Wow: June 30-July 4, 2016, Lame Deer
  • North American Indian Days: July 7-10, 2016, Browning
  • Standing Arrow Pow Wow: July 14-17, 2016, Elmo
  • Milk River Indian Days: July 29-31, 2016, Fort Belknap Agency
  • Annual Rocky Boy’s Celebration: August 5-7, 2016, Box Elder
  • Hays Pow Wow: August 10-15, 2016, Hays
  • Crow Fair and Rodeo: August 17-22, 2016, Crow Agency
  • Poplar Indian Days: September 2-4, 2016, Poplar
  • North American Indian Alliance Pow Wow: September 9-10, 2016, Butte
  • Last Chance Community Pow Wow: September 30-October 2, 2016, Helena

GUEST BLOG: A Brighter Future Because of Tribal College

Today, the Montana Budget and Policy Center will hear from one Montanan and her story what tribal college means to her.

The tribal college on my reservation has impacted my life more than any other organization, which is ironic because I never planned on attending college. I grew up in St. Ignatius, just 20 miles south of Salish Kootenai College (SKC).   During my senior year of high school I transferred to Two Eagle River School, our tribal school that literally borders SKC, and completed early. I was eager to get out on my own and experience life outside the reservation. But as many of us discover, life outside the rez isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I worked a couple of jobs but didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. Luckily, my older sister enrolled me at SKC and told me to come home.  

Jody Perez photo

During my first year at SKC I had the opportunity to develop several basic academic and organizational skills, but I also learned what it meant to be a part of the SKC family. I got engaged to the student body president and we got married on campus in the Michel Building. Joe McDonald, the college president, emceed our wedding. Many of our guests were staff and faculty and many others were connected to the college in some way. We even lived on campus because my husband was the site manager for student housing. I felt support and love from the SKC family, which I was now a part of.

The next year I switched degree programs twice and we welcomed our first baby. I held a part-time job at the local travel agency and took classes that interested me, quickly discovering that I enjoyed and excelled in accounting. These classes helped me obtain a full-time job in the finance department at Mission Valley Power. Shortly thereafter, I completed my associate’s degree in general studies. Little did I know that this degree would open future job opportunities that would play a big role in changing our lives.

After the birth of our second child, I decided to put work and school on pause to focus on our family, which soon grew to four children. I stayed home with them for seven years, all the while living in student housing. My husband continued to work for the college and was also the women’s basketball coach. Living on campus and attending games and other events enabled me to remain active in the SKC family. My love and appreciation for the college continued to grow.

When I was ready to return to the workforce, my associate’s degree and the work experience I acquired because of my SKC classes helped me secure the payroll manager position for our tribe. The additional income made it possible for us to purchase our first home, a dream I wasn’t sure we would ever be able to realize. We moved out of student housing but were still very involved in the SKC family. In 2012, I applied for an open seat on the SKC Board of Directors. I am honored to be serving my second term and am currently the vice chair.

I strive to ensure that students find the same support and love that I did. I am forever indebted to SKC for lifting me up, leading me down a good path, strengthening my cultural knowledge, and always believing in me.

Presently, I am working full-time for our tribal housing authority. My position has afforded me the opportunity to finish what I started fifteen years ago. I have been attending SKC full-time for the past year and will be receiving my associate’s degree in business next month. I will continue at SKC until I earn my bachelor’s in business management. I will never stop being involved in and supporting tribal colleges because I know that they enable people like me to increase our overall quality of life by enabling us to access a broad-based education that allows us to obtain better jobs, helping to end cycles of poverty and dysfunction. They allow us to develop strong support networks that cultivate self-esteem and self-efficacy. Ultimately, they are a powerful and effective way for people to create a brighter future for themselves, their families, and our communities.


-Jody Perez is a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. She is a past and current student at SKC and also serves as the Vice Chair on the SKC Board of Directors.

Tribal Colleges: A Great Option for New High School Graduates

As we near graduation next month, many high school seniors and other non-traditional students are finalizing their fall college plans. This post highlights an often overlooked option for post-secondary study: tribal colleges, which play a critical role in educating and training workforces across our state and which provide a range of educational opportunities, from adult basic education and certificates to associate’s and bachelor’s degrees.

The tribal colleges located in the state of Montana play a critical role within the broader higher education system in the state. Out of the 32 fully accredited tribal colleges in the U.S., seven of them are located in Montana — one on each reservation, serving more than 5,000 students. Perhaps surprisingly, non-Indian students make up between 10-30 percent of the student body at tribal colleges in Montana. However, the colleges are only eligible for federal funding tied to the number of Indian students they serve. The state of Montana has recognized the critical role that tribal colleges play and provides a state investment tied to the number of non-Indian students enrolled. Although this investment provides some support to offset the expense of serving non-Indian students, it falls well below the amount the state provides per student to non-tribal community colleges and public universities.

Tribal colleges have expanded their enrollment demographic in recent years partly because they continue to be an affordable option for students and families and also because they have increased academic offerings. Tribal colleges provide job training opportunities that meet the needs of their local communities. Additionally, they have joined tribal leaders in efforts to preserve tribal language, history and culture. All the while, their modest size and structure has enabled to them to expand their degree offerings to reflect the broader job market. Many now offer degrees in information technology, business management, and entrepreneurship, as well as healthcare-related professions like nursing and psychology. They have also worked to develop coordinated agreements with colleges in the Montana University System, so that students can successfully transfer to a MUS school or access online courses to meet their academic and career needs.

Today, tribal colleges are a great option for any student looking for an affordable, close-to-home education that includes a smaller campus and a modest class size that affords them the personal attention needed for academic success.