Great Falls Public Schools Receives Donation for Indigenous Education

The Great Falls Public Schools Foundation, which works to improve learning opportunities for students, received a $20,000 donation from United sistersa local non-profit organization that supports Indigenous women and girls, to support Indigenous education programs.

The donation will support a variety of projects aimed at promoting reflective learning and inspiring pride in Indigenous identity, including:

  • Students will plant sweet grass in raised beds and learn about plant science and the Aboriginal tradition of smudging.
  • High school students will take a trip this spring to a ranch near Choteau for a buffalo hunt. They will learn about the traditional methods of harvesting the animal and its historical significance to indigenous peoples. The meat from the hunt will be processed and used in ceremonies and culinary classes.
  • Native American club members will work with the state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to create native plant signs at Giant Springs State Park.
  • Tribal elders will participate in a series of lectures for students and community members.
  • Traditional Aboriginal dance will be incorporated into physical education classes.
Candice English, owner of The Farmer's Daughter Fibers, hand dyed and ships yarn worldwide from her store in Great Falls.

Dugan Coburn, director of Indian education at Great Falls Public Schools, said the donation helps the department immediately implement ideas that “we probably wouldn’t be able to access for three or four years.”

Great Falls Public Schools serve students from 51 tribes, and Coburn said connecting urban Indigenous students to their culture can be difficult.

“Now we will have the opportunity to have buffalo hunts and smudging ceremonies – it’s a way of connecting urban children to their ancestral base,” he said.

Coburn said he hopes the programs will help give “kids a head start in learning about their own culture.”

“In the Blackfeet culture, for example, we believe that every plant has a source of life, so when you pick it, you have to recognize and respect what it gives you. So students will learn that stuff with our planters. , and I hope that when the elders come to visit us, the students can ask them the right questions, rather than being silent,” he said.

Outstanding Indigenous Woman ::Candice English Provides Opportunities for Indigenous Girls

Candice English, Founder and President of United sistersgrew up in Whitefish and Missoula and said such educational opportunities were unavailable when she was younger.

“I don’t recall learning any form of Indigenous education, let alone programs about accepting Indigenous identity,” she said. “When I visited the Paris Gibson Education Center, I saw that they had toothpaste and deodorant for students and they had freezers full of meat. Just offering these things to students, it’s so tied to your self-esteem. When you’re a teenager, I don’t think people realize how much those little things matter and how they affect the choices teenagers make in life.”

English founded Sisters United to support Native women and girls and to address the epidemic of missing and murdered Native women plaguing Montana. Indigenous people make up about 6.7% of Montana’s population and make up, on average, 26% of the state’s missing persons population. In the past year, two cases, in particular, have devastated the Blackfeet community. Arden Pepion, 3, and Leo Wagner, 26, both disappeared from Blackfeet reserve last April in separate incidents.

“When I started thinking about missing and murdered Indigenous women, I thought about what we could do to to prevent does this not happen? How can we encourage children to become more involved in their community and culture to alleviate some of these issues? I hope these programs will help support our children, and not just aboriginal children, but other children as well. I hope this will allow them to become more immersed in the native culture and have a more integrated experience,” she said.

English has Farmer’s Daughter Fibersa wool shop in Great Falls, where she incorporates elements of Aboriginal culture into her work.

Her yarn colors are rich and understated, which she describes as “classic Montana colors.” And the English names some sons in the Blackfoot language. His cream-colored yarn, for example, is called Napi, who is a trickster in Blackfeet legends. As business boomed, English established Sister’s United, a foundation that supports Indigenous women and children through scholarship and violence prevention.

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