Graduate Numbers Prove Stone Child’s Success

Aug 15th, 2005 | By | Category: 17-1: Telling Our Stories, Tribal College News

Twenty-five years ago, only one or two Chippewa Cree college students from the Rocky Boys’ Indian Reservation graduated from college each year. Parents and educators were mystified. They knew that their students were intelligent, dedicated, and responsible. Many students left the reservation in north-central Montana to attend college. Why were they dropping out and not graduating?

This spring, reservation parents’ and educators’ faith is being vindicated. A total of 53 people from the reservation are receiving degrees ranging from associate to doctoral. Thirty-four students are receiving associate degrees, 13 bachelor’s degrees, 5 master’s degrees, and 1 a doctorate.

Two-thirds of those people will be graduating from the tribal college, Stone Child College, a fully accredited two-year institution. Presiding at the Stone Child graduation exercises on May 6 was one of the college’s success stories. Melody Henry graduated from Stone Child and went on to receive her bachelor’s and her master’s degree at Montana State University-Northern. Today she is the college president.

“We are delighted to have so many of our people graduating from college and moving forward with their education and their careers,” says Henry.

The credit for the educational transformation belongs to the Chippewa Cree Tribal Council, according to tribal college officials. In 1980, the tribal council took over the higher education program from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).

Ed Stamper, director of foundations and research at Stone Child College, says that when the BIA ran the higher education program prior to the 1980s, formal education wasn’t really a priority for either the bureau or for the community. Many of the parents had attended boarding schools where they experienced physical abuse for violations such as using their own language, says Stamper, a tribal member who has been involved in tribal higher education since 1981. Their experiences tainted their attitude toward education.

When the tribe took over education, the administrators were tribal members who had more direct ties to the students and thus felt more commitment to their success, Stamper says. Over the years, they took several significant steps that led to today’s remarkable graduation statistics.

The council created the Chippewa Cree Tribal Education Department in 1980. By 1982, the department was administering a few U.S. Department of Education grants and the adult vocational training program, which provided financial assistance to tribal members attending a vocational or trade school of their choice.

On May 17, 1984, the Chippewa Cree Tribal Council chartered Stone Child College, the 24th tribal college in the United States. The tribal college began administering the tribal higher education department on behalf of the tribe. When the tribal council created and funded a graduate scholarship program and a natural resources scholarship program in 2001, the tribal college administered those programs as well.

Stamper says that tribal officials feel more ownership in education than the BIA felt 25 years ago, and his statement seems to be verified by his and the college president’s familiarity with each of the 53 graduates. Thirty-four are receiving associate degrees from their college, and six of their faculty and staff are receiving degrees.

The other 13 are attending other universities or colleges across the United States utilizing one of the higher education programs administered by the tribal college. Stamper said that four of the 53 are non-Indian, and all but nine of the 53 were raised on the Rocky Boys’ Indian Reservation.

Over the past 20 years, Stone Child College has graduated 406 students on a relatively small reservation (about 3,000 residents). “These graduates are becoming the leaders in our community,” according to Stamper.

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