"Providing a sense of belonging and support is what we strive for across the university system."

Each year, on the last Friday of September, Montana celebrates American Indian Heritage Day to acknowledge the traditions, culture, and significant contributions of American Indians in Montana. Officially, American Indian Heritage Day is a “day of observance to commemorate this state’s American Indians and their valued heritage and culture.” 

For us, it’s a time to reflect upon and celebrate the contributions and successes of Native students, faculty, and staff across the Montana University System. Last year, when American Indian students made the inaugural walk to the newly completed American Indian Hall at Montana State University, students said the Native American community is a family and that when they visited the new hall, it was not like they were leaving home, but were coming to a new home on campus. Students expressed a similar sentiment in 2010 when the Payne Family Native American Center opened at the University of Montana – the first facility in the nation to house both American Indian student services and a department of Native American studies. 

Providing a sense of belonging and support is what we strive for across the university system. Indeed, every MUS campus is working tirelessly to create a culture where American Indian student success matters to everyone. Intentional hiring, creating positions designed to support American Indian student achievement, and establishing peer-based student support systems are some of the efforts leading to a campus culture that supports American Indian student success. 

We’re proud that our efforts are resulting in more opportunities and success for Native students. Across the MUS, overall American Indian student enrollment has increased by over 16% in the past 5 years, totaling more than 2,500 students this fall. In addition, the MUS as a whole saw a 7.9% increase in the retention of American Indian students with nearly every campus posting increased retention rates. We’re excited by these trends and are grateful to the faculty and staff who are providing the education, support, and guidance that is bringing more Native students into our classrooms and keeping them engaged as part of our community.

The MUS is also proud of the growing number of opportunities we’ve been able to provide students through our partnerships with the seven Tribal Colleges in Montana. This year, Fort Peck Community College joined Blackfeet Community College in completing the Common Course Numbering (CCN) process. Recently, Aaniiih Nakoda and Stone Child Colleges joined this effort as well. Through this process, students will have better information and greater clarity about how their courses will transfer into the MUS system. Joining the CNN process also helps tribal college students use other transfer tools in the MUS, including our new transfer pathways, which map out coursework students can take to be on track in popular bachelor’s degree disciplines.

We’re excited to both celebrate and continue to build upon these efforts and success throughout November, which is American Indian Heritage Month. We also know that there is more work to be done, and we will continue to be relentless in our efforts to make the promise of higher education a reality for American Indian students. I wish you all a happy American Indian Heritage Day.