Working under a State constitutional and legislative mandate (Article X and MCA 20-1-501) the Montana Office of Public Instruction (OPI) has for years pursued a progressive and aggressive “Indian Education for All” program, the goal to present the history, culture and lifestyles of Montana tribal people in a favorable way throughout the state’s public schools, A recent project was “Making Montana Proud”, a series of professionally produced posters featuring successful, inspirational Montana Natives role-models.
A sample poster selected for this story features Shane Morigeau, Salish and Kootenai. Morigeau, tribal lawyer and elected State Representative is now running for the position of Auditor in Montana, already endorsed by many Tribes and Tribal organizations.
OPI Indian Education Specialists who led the project recently explained its background: Mike Jetty, Spirit Lake Dakota tribal member, who has been working with Indian education for the past 29 years with 18 of those years at OPI and Stephen Morsette, Chippewa-Cree tribal member, who taught at Box Elder Schools for 9 years and has been with OPI for the past 4 years.
In 2008, OPI did a poster series featuring Native Montanans, “Honor your Self” which was very well received,” said Jetty. “The teachers and students all liked it, positive stories as opposed to the negative, which we too often hear or read about.”
Copies of the poster series were provided to every public middle and high school in the State. Thus, several high schools were then inspired to make their own poster series, featuring successful tribal students.
Former State Director of Indian Education, Mandy Smoker Broaddus, Assiniboine and Sioux, was in full support of renewing that effort. In 2018, during a roundtable staff discussion, Morsette brought the idea up to revisit the poster project. Mandy then assigned him the lead and he was provided with a modest budget ($11,000) to make it happen.
Initially, he contacted tribal governments to solicit nominations, which did not pan out well. So, OPI began to utilize social media: Facebook, establishing the parameters: nominees had to under 40; nominated by fellow tribal members and personally agree to participate if selected.
The results were astounding, putting the OPI folks into quandary. How to select from so many successful candidates: the issue not being enough achievers, but so many, each one special in their own right. A panel of OPI staff carefully reviewed each nomination, including the number of times each one was nominated.
“I wish we could have included everyone,” Morsette remarked, “but we came up with a nice balance (culinary artists, tribal language teachers, lawyers, activists, elected officials and even professional comedians) such a wide array of talent and accomplishment.”