Articles & Updates

V5I2: Transforming Lives, Transforming Native Communities

Dec. 8, 2022 ⋅ Categories: Beacon, Equity


In Fall 2021, Salish Kootenai College (SKC) admitted the first cohort of students into a unique Master of Science in Natural Resources Management (MS NRM) designed to meet the needs of Native American students and communities. Native American Tribes and Tribal Confederations exert sovereignty over approximately 20% of the nation’s natural resources and 27% of the freshwater resources. For example, there are 305 forested Indian reservations which encompass 18 million acres of forestland.  Facing issues from climate change to socioeconomic challenges, management of tribal water, forests, and fisheries is increasingly complex. With a view to these needs, SKC created the MS NRM program, designed to transform students’ lives and increase the number of Native Americans with educational preparation needed to provide resource management integrated with perspectives and worldviews of Native American communities. Jim Durglo (Confederated Salish & Kootenai), Chair of the SKC Board of Directors and contractor with the Intertribal Timber Council, notes the importance of programs that include indigenous and western academic perspectives, noting that “tribal colleges offer a different lens in which students working within tribal management programs are guided by traditional core values like respect, reciprocity, and connectivity of all things.”

Native American participation in STEM programs remains low. In 2019, only .008% of graduate students in Natural Resources and Conservation fields were Native American (NSF). There are numerous barriers for Native American students who wish to pursue graduate studies, including those described in the literature as well as specific barriers listed by potential SKC NRM Graduate Program students in a needs survey conducted in summer 2019. These include family and community commitments and differing cultural values than those often emphasized in academia. The Program is designed to provide on-ramps to graduate education by addressing barriers to advanced education for Native American students and provide off-ramps to positions that require graduate education in tribal, state, or federal resource management agencies or doctoral education for tribal members who wish to pursue careers in research or postsecondary education.

Brian Hogenson (Little Shell Band of Chippewa), current MS NMR student

The MS NRM is funded through a National Science Foundation Tribal College and University Program (TCUP) grant and implemented in partnership with the University of Idaho. Coursework is primarily offered online to alleviate barriers of travel and separation from family. According to Dr. Rick Everett, Program Chair, the curriculum is designed to promote the integration of traditional ecological knowledge, indigenous research methods, and western scientific research. An important program learning outcome is that students are able to “integrate cultural worldview and community preferences with western science to provide place-based and culturally respectful natural resource management.” Courses such as Indigenous Research Methodologies and Tribal Sovereignty, Trust, and Policy as well as emphasis on the perspectives of students’ own tribes and communities provide students with knowledge and skills needed to meet this outcome. Dr. Elaine Frank (Haida), Graduate Studies Dean, actively works to promote partnerships with tribal communities and an advisory board.

As the first cohort of students begin work on their final projects or theses, they have the opportunity to choose topics that address resource management needs in their communities. Brian Hogenson (Little Shell Band of Chippewa), a current MS NMR student, is studying the effect of mountain snowpack on valley stream flows over a 40-year time period to give the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes a better understanding of changes in streamflow for water management. He appreciates the opportunity to choose a topic that is directly correlated with his work and integrated with traditional ecological knowledge as well as his cultural values, “and not so focused on traditional academic science and achievement. Sometimes in mainstream education we try to talk ‘science’ and live up to expectations that we think we are supposed to have in academia, and this program allows us to be ourselves, not apologize, not hide behind who we are.” Brian also shared that, “as the [CSKT] are implementing the water compact, there’s a lot of work on habitat restoration and stream restoration, and this is giving me a good understanding of how that work is done and how to work within tribal community to realize positive change.”

Beyond the transformation of tribal communities by increasing the number of Native Americans who are able to provide culturally responsive and scientifically validated resource management, the SKC MS NRM is transforming the lives of students. With graduate degrees, students are able to advance in their professions, gain employment in positions requiring advanced degrees, and experience increased professional networks. Brian Hogenson also spoke of the impact on his family, sharing that his children see that “education doesn’t stop, we can all try to continue to build ourselves, to work hard for our families and community.”


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