Tester promises action after hosting Montana Tribal College Summit

Colleges are critical to economy, better jobs and better living conditions in Indian Country, Senator says

(BROWNING, Mont.) – Well-funded schools, qualified teachers and engaged students are building blocks that improve the quality of life in Indian Country, Senator Jon Tester told nearly 100 participants at his Montana Tribal College Summit today in Browning.

Leaders from all seven tribal colleges in Montana attended the first-of-its-kind summit at the Blackfeet Community College to address the theme, "Empowering Through Education."  Representatives from other colleges and universities across the state also took part in the summit.

Tester, a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, called the statewide meeting to brainstorm ways of improving education on all of Montana's tribal nations.

"This is about getting lots of brainpower under one roof, and about putting good ideas to work for Montana," Tester said.  "Education—especially higher education—on our tribal nations is critically important.  And when it comes to making it better, we can't afford to wait."

Tester said Montana's tribal colleges are "part of the very infrastructure" of Indian Country.  Better education, he added, will strengthen economic development on reservations and bring to them better job opportunities, better living conditions like health care and housing and better drug and alcohol awareness.

Participants in today's summit discussed short term and long term goals to improve tribal colleges, and brainstormed ways of overcoming obstacles, improving student transition, retention and recruitment.

At the close of the summit, Tester shared an Action Plan he will share with his colleagues in Washington and with education and policy leaders across Montana.

In the plan, Tester vows to continue pressing Congress to provide funding for Montana's tribal colleges.  The preliminary plan also:

  • Calls on tribal leaders to direct as much money as possible to improve the    colleges.
  • Calls on all education leaders (tribal and non-tribal) to continue engaging in    open dialogue.
  • Urges tribal colleges to prioritize teaching American Indian culture, including    languages.
  • Asks that the State of Montana continue teaching American Indian culture in public schools.

"Good ideas aren't much if they don't go anywhere," Tester said.  "We're not going to just talk about the problem.  We're going to walk the walk to bring some positive change to Indian Country."