Montana Funds Non-Indian StudentsSep 15th, 1999 | By tcj | Category: 11-1: 10th Anniversary Issue, Tribal College News
After moving testimony from non-Indian students who attend tribal colleges, the Montana Legislature agreed to provide $1,500 per student to tribal colleges in Montana to help support the cost of educating those students. The U.S. Congress provides annual support to tribal colleges for Indian students only. With the exception of Minnesota, states have largely refused to provide any state funds for tribal colleges until recently. In the past year, New Mexico and Arizona have both agreed to provide some funds to tribal colleges in those states. (See separate story about Arizona in this issue and about New Mexico in Vol. 10, N.4, p.10).
In Montana, the momentum seems to be building for a permanent appropriation, according to Dr. Joe McDonald, president of Salish Kootenai College and a long time veteran of the legislative battles. Four years ago, the Montana Legislature appropriated funds to support non-Indian students at tribal colleges for two years. When the appropriation ran out, proponents tried two years ago to get a statute to make the appropriation a permanent part of the budgeting process. The statute succeeded, but the money was never appropriated, leaving the tribal colleges without money for those students for the past two years.
This year the tribal college question became enmeshed in the university system budget, raising questions about whether university funds would be taken from the 13 state schools to give to the tribal colleges and whether the university regents would have authority over tribal college budgets. The tribal college representatives testified that they did not want to take money from the university system. In the end, that amendment was tabled but the appropriation passed. Depending upon the number of non-Indians they each have, the tribal colleges in Montana will receive funds this fall and next year.
McDonald credited the victory primarily to tribal college students and to Rep. Carol Juneau, a Blackfeet tribal member and a former president of Blackfeet Community College. The non-Indian students explained why they needed to attend college close to home and how a college education had changed their lives. They said they had learned from their fellow Indian students as well. “When the students finish, it takes courage to oppose them,” McDonald said. Students not only testify but also visit legislators in their offices. “Some of the people we visited four years ago are our advocates today,” he said.