Stone Child Marks 25th Year of Serving Community

Aug 15th, 2009 | By | Category: 21-1: Celebrating Tribal College Journal's 20th Anniversary, Community & Partnerships, Tribal College News

After graduating from Stone Child College (SCC, Box Elder, MT) with an Associate of Science Degree in General Business, Melody Henry (Chippewa Cree) obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Montana State University-Northern. Then in 2004 she returned to become president of her tribal college alma mater.

Obtaining her 2-year degree from SCC gave her the education and the confidence she needed to make it at larger campuses, she says. “I remember walking across the stage at graduation. It gave me such a sense of accomplishment.”

SCC launched its 25th anniversary celebration at the end of April with a week-long series of events that included a feast, a run, an awards ceremony, Native games, graduation on May 8, and a powwow. Henry says she believes the staff feels a strong sense of accomplishment about the college’s growth.

The campus has come a long way since the idea of a community college was first discussed by the Chippewa Cree Tribal Education Commission in the early 1980s, recalls Ed Stamper, who has been involved in the college from its beginnings. Henry calls him the “grandfather of the college.”

Tribal leaders wanted to do something to see that more young people received an education, Stamper says. At that time, scholarships were provided, and classes from other colleges were offered on the reservation. Stamper saw students go to off-reservation campuses and not succeed. Many were like Henry – brilliant people who felt overwhelmed being away from their culture, he says. Tribal leaders decided that a 2-year college on the reservation would be the best answer.

After years of work, the college was chartered on May 17, 1984. Margaret “Peggy” Nagel was installed as the first president. One of the buildings is named “Sitting Old Woman” (Nagel’s Native name) in her honor. Four women students became the first graduating class. In 1989, the college was formally accredited.

Since then, more than 400 people have graduated from the college. It has moved to a new campus; a new gymnasium is being built; and college officials are in the first stages of talks about offering 4-year degrees in the future. Henry says college officials don’t want to overextend themselves.

Stamper says the college has given many students the push and the confidence they need. After attending SCC for their first two years, students often transfer to 4-year schools. “Many have obtained master’s degrees; two have doctorates. We have a doctor and lawyer among the graduates,” says Stamper, who is now the college’s director of foundations and research.

In 2002, the college moved to a new campus. Henry says the campus can boast that it is debt-free. Henry and Stamper say the college makes special efforts to serve the needs of the Chippewa Cree people. Day care services are provided; special transportation is offered; there is free tutoring; and last year – when gas was $4 per gallon – the college converted to a four-day week so students could conserve on fuel. Staff and faculty work one-on-one with students to establish their goals for their academic and personal lives.

While there are still many students in their 50s, Henry says, the average age of students has dropped from 30 to about 26. Students coming out of high school immediately now attend SCC, she says. When Henry went to senior night at Rocky Boy and Box Elder high schools this spring, everyone told her they planned to enroll at Stone Child.

Most SCC students come from Box Elder, Rocky Boy, or Havre, she says. To make the college more attractive to younger students, the college is planning to build dormitories. There is also the possibility of a basketball team, she says. Upon graduation, many students transfer to Montana State University- Northern so the two schools are working to make the transition easier. Often students take three courses at Stone Child and one at Northern, which helps prepare them for Northern.

Henry says she believes the tribal college is “a bright spot in this community… Life can be hard out here,” she says. “We have high unemployment and many social issues, but Stone Child is a beacon of hope… I’ve seen people come here with no income, people receiving government assistance, and they become leaders of our tribal council,” Stamper says. Students try to give back to the community, Henry says.

This article was reprinted by permission from Havre Daily News. For more information on Stone Child College visit

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