Equal Educational Opportunity for Native American Students in Montana Public Schools


The Montana Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is charged with assisting the Commission in its fact-finding, investigative, and information dissemination functions. In keeping with these responsibilities, the Montana Advisory Committee conducted two fact-finding meetings, the first in Billings on December 10, 1996, and the second in Missoula on April 24, 1997, to receive information on equal educational opportunities for Native American students in Montana public schools.

The purpose of the fact-finding meetings was to provide an overview of the issue and gather information from participants, who brought a variety of statistics, experiences, recommendations, concerns, and opinions. Individuals invited to the fact-finding meetings were identified through recommendations from Advisory Committee members, through personal and telephone interviews, referrals, and a variety of other sources.

The fact-finding meetings were especially timely in that they coincided with a number of studies, efforts, and proposals initiated by Indian education associations, education organizations, tribal education departments, and also a 1996 study conducted by the Committee on Indian Affairs of the Montana Legislature.

During the first fact-finding meeting held in Billings,[1] 27 individuals participated, and at the second fact-finding meeting held in Missoula,[2] 28 individuals made presentations. Collectively, they represented an array of experiences and viewpoints from local, state, and federal agencies, commissions, public school districts, tribal education departments and tribal leadership, community-based organizations, advocacy groups, students, parents, and interested citizens.

It is expected that the information found in this report will help state agencies, local school districts and schools, and educators make informed decisions concerning the future of Montana’s Native American children enrolled in public schools across the state, and the equality and quality of education they receive.

To address this issue, this report will look at the history of Montana public education and what role it has played in ensuring that Native American children receive an equal education. We will share with the reader other efforts, past and present, to address the issue of Indian education in Montana. The report will also discuss the extent to which discrimination in education may exist as it affects Indian children in the state, and identify possible solutions.

[1] Invited participants in the December 10, 1996, fact-finding meeting in Billings were:

Representative Joan Hurdle, Montana House of Representatives
John Morales, member, Tribal Executive Board, Fort Peck Reservation
Ellen Swaney, director, American Indian/Minority Achievement, Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education
Dr. Wayne Buchanan, executive secretary, Board of Public Education
Nora Bird, president, Montana Association for Bilingual Education
Lynn Hinch, bilingual specialist, Office of Public Instruction
Norma Bixby, director, Education Department, Northern Cheyenne Tribe
Arnold Jefferson, director, Crow Tribal Education Department
Susan McDaniel, academic dean, Rocky Mountain College
Carolyn Pease-Lopez, advisor, American Indian Students Services, Rocky Mountain College
Clara Beth Johnson, consortium coordinator, Rocky Mountain College
Mike Chapman, principal, Crow Agency Public School
Dr. James Kimmet, superintendent, Billings Public Schools, District 2
Dick Kuntz, assistant superintendent and coordinator of Indian education, Great Falls Public Schools
Ellen Hilde, education consultant
Sayra Matta, student, Wolf Point High School
Michael Bruner, student, Brockton High School
Shannon Jackson, student, Frazer High School
Dallas Big Leggins, former student, Wolf Point High School
James Corson, member, Billings Public School Board
Bryan Johnson, chair, Yellowstone County Christian Coalition
Elizabeth Reece, tribal contracting officer, Crow Tribe, Crow Reservation, Representing Chairwoman Clara Nomee
Desiree Lambert, director, Fort Peck Tribes Education Department, Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, Fort Peck Reservation
Clarice Denny, Board of Trustees, Hardin School District 1 and 17H
Lanny Real Bird, graduate student, Montana State University-Bozeman
Willie Bird, student, Hardin High School
Tim Lame Woman Sr., tribal member, Northern Cheyenne Tribe

[2] Invited participants in the April 24, 1997, fact-finding meeting in Missoula were:

Dr. Joseph McDonald, president, Salish-Kootenai College
David Dunbar, regional attorney, Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education, Region 8
Gerald L. “Jerry” Brown, director, Educational Equity Center, Region 8
Roger Helmer, superintendent, Browning Public Schools
Ron Rude, superintendent, Plains Public Schools
Sandra Murie, superintendent, Rocky Boy’s Public Schools
John Matt, superintendent, St. Ignatius Public Schools
Bernard Lambert, superintendent, Brockton Public Schools
Co Carew, program director, Polson Partnership Project, Polson School District 23
Carole Meyers, Indian education Title IX coordinator, Missoula County Public Schools
Starla Klevenberg, Title VII, bilingual education teacher, Missoula County Public Schools
Dr. Robert J. Swan, federal programs coordinator, Rocky Boy’s Public Schools
Theodore Weatherwax, president, Montana Indian Education Association
Robert Fox, chair, Indian School Board Caucus, Montana School Boards Association
Jackie Tang, director of Social Services, Northern Cheyenne Tribe
Chief Earl Old Person, Blackfeet Indian Tribe
Norma Wolfchief Gourneau, vice president, Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council
Gary Stevens, member, Salish & Kootenai Tribal Council
Tobe Whitaker, secretary-treasurer, Little Shell Tribal Council
Joseph Pickett, vice chair, Crow Tribal Council
Patrick Weasel Head, associate director, Native American Studies Program, University of Montana
Franci Taylor, former teacher, Helena Public Schools
Dr. Nate St. Pierre, director, Office of Tribal Services, Montana State University-Bozeman
Wilma Mad Plume, elementary teacher, Vina Chattin School
Janet Robideau, member, Indian People’s Action
Wyman J. McDonald, coordinator, Indian Affairs, Office of the Governor
Linda Peterson, division administrator, Office of Public Instruction
Joyce Silverthorne, vice chair, Montana Board of Public Education