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UM’s School of Public Health increases focus on Indigenous land reconnaissance

MISSOULA – When D’Shane Barnett first heard a land reconnaissance about four years ago, he thought the statement acknowledging that Missoula is on land traditionally occupied by Indigenous peoples was powerful.

But Barnett, director and health official for the Missoula City and County Health Department, said the statements had since lost some of their impact.

“It’s like the first time you tell someone you love them,” said Barnett, who belongs to the Mandan and Arikara tribes. He said land recognition is great, but when overused its function of inspiring action is insufficient.

That’s why Barnett, who is also a doctoral student at the University of Montana, helped edit a new field recognition written by the university’s School of Community and Public Health Sciences. The recognition was introduced on Indigenous Peoples Day in October.

Most land recognitions list the indigenous tribes that traditionally inhabited the local areas, but do not include instructions on how non-indigenous people can support these tribes.

The new statement says the university is working to empower indigenous academics by honoring tribal authority and creating inclusive learning environments. Barnett said the more specific, action-oriented language makes this recognition of the land one of the best he’s ever seen.

He also praised the declaration for directly calling on the education, health and legal systems to marginalize indigenous peoples.

Mansfield Library

A Native American campsite near the Clark Fork River and what is now downtown Missoula.

The School of Community and Public Health Sciences joins others at the university, including Alexander Blewett III Law School and the Program in Ecological Agriculture and Society (PEAS Farm), who have written unique statements from general recognition of the university, which was adopted in 2016.

A problematic part of land recognitions is that they are often phrased in the past tense, according to Dr. Brad Hall, Blackfeet educator and tribal outreach specialist for the office of the president of the university.

Almost 3% of Americans and 6% of Montanais identified as Native American or Alaska Native in the 2020 census.

Recognizing history in land recounts is vital and should be used to “position oneself in the present, then look to the future,” Hall said. This means supporting and enhancing the university experience for current and future Indigenous students, who make up nearly 7% of the mountain campus student population, or just under 600, according to enrollment data released in September.

Hall said it is important to introduce and promote indigenous knowledge and research methods in classrooms. A land recognition should identify the author’s plans to incorporate this support, he said.

This means that land recognitions can be quite personal, even at the individual level. Making or reading any of these statements “recognizes personal responsibility and personal stewardship,” Hall said.

Hall listed several things that a person should take into account when writing a statement, including their personal background, how that person is viewed by others, and the impact that person has on the people who have it. surround.

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Masfield Library

The Bitterroot-Salish near the Missoula Valley.

Even if land recognition is improving, it is not set in stone. These are “living things that can be made more relevant over time,” Hall said, leaving room for their authors to incorporate new knowledge.

Annie Belcourt, a professor in the School of Community and Public Health Sciences, began writing the school’s statement in September. Belcourt, who is part of the Blackfeet, Mandan, Hidatsa and Chippewa tribes, decided to include the names of the tribes in English and in their own languages.

“We are here on their land. Why not include their names if we can? ” she asked.

When she recognized the University of Montana as being on the traditional lands of the Salish people, she also used “Selis”, the Salish name for the tribe. Likewise, she associated Kootenai with “Ksanka” and Kalispel with “Qlispe”.

The declaration also recognizes the migratory nature of five other tribes who “relied on their traditional knowledge and their relationship to this land and this survival space in the past and today,” according to the declaration.

Belcourt had never used land recognition before writing this one. She didn’t want to use one superficially. Taking the time to write one herself, Belcourt said, allowed her to consider how place and history have shaped the health of Indigenous communities today.


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