Fort Belknap Tells its Creation Story

Nov 15th, 2002 | By | Category: 14-2: American Indian Higher Education Consortium 30th Anniversary, Tribal College News
By Clarena Brockie

Each tribal college has its own “creation story.” Stone Child College boasts of being a “commune a versity,” (a quote from the founder, Peggy Nagel) as the college was located all over the community, in housing projects, trailers, etc. Little Big Horn College was once housed in an old water treatment plant, an abandoned irrigation building, and trailers.

Fort Belknap College (Harlem, MT) is no different. We have had offices and classrooms in shopping centers, old housing, and, you guessed it, trailers. We remember when the light to the trailer classrooms’ furnace kept going off in the dead of winter, and we had to shut down classes. We remember having the toilets freeze up because it was so cold.

When we moved into our first “constructed building,” we kept looking at the polished floors, clean atmosphere, and the happy smiling faces of our staff and faculty. Today Fort Belknap College has four constructed buildings: Nakoda Hall, White Clay Hall, a multipurpose building, and our radio station, KGVA. Construction soon will start on our science lab and the new cultural center. The cultural center grew out of our college’s and President Carole Falcon-Chandler’s goal to promote and preserve the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine culture, traditions, customs, and languages.

The science lab is necessary to meet the increased student enrollment in the Allied Health and Natural Resources Program and to respond to the needs of the community. Fort Belknap College has a collaborative agreement with the tribes to assess the water quality resources on the Fort Belknap Reservation. The southern end of the reservation is adjacent to one of the largest mining operations (now defunct) with the most expansive cyanide heap leach mine in the United States.

As part of the legal action regarding the reclamation, the Consent Decree called for an assessment of the aquatic resources on the reservation. The tribal college got the contract to do the monitoring, using current students and graduates of the natural resources program. The new science lab will include the basic microbiology laboratory equipment needed for quality laboratory instruction and undergraduate research opportunities. The college will renovate its multipurpose building to provide a microbiology lab to teach classes in microbiology, cellular biology, and related fields.

Two years ago our Indian Student Count was 145 students, and today it is 185. Thanks to all those entities that took a chance on “investing” in tribal colleges, our facilities are growing to meet our expanding needs.

Clarena Brockie (Gros Ventre) was involved in founding the college in 1984. Now she is the dean of students.

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