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University Of Montana Awarded $1 Million To Support Indigenous Knowledge Project

The University of Montana was awarded $1 million through the Mellon Foundation to support Indigenous ways of knowing and Native American expertise in humanities, UM said Thursday, July 13, in a press release.

“This award aims to elevate knowledge that represents more complete and accurate narratives of the human experience by incorporating perspectives of Native elders and knowledge holders into higher education,” said Fernando Sanchez, director of the Elouise Cobell Land and Culture Institute, in a statement from the university.

Knowledge holders are individuals in the tribal nations who have expertise in traditional history, customs and culture.

The Montana Constitution mandates Indian Education for All to ensure that Montana students understand Native people in this region. This is the first time the Mellon Foundation selected UM for funding to advance the humanities.

The money will support curriculum developments, a tenure-track faculty hire and 15 internships for students over the three years of the project. The project will also offer opportunities for undergraduates to interact with elders and knowledge holders.

Carol Murray, who is considered aawaahsskataiksi, is an elder who advises on teachings of Kipaitapiwahsinnooni (“Our Way of Life” in Blackfoot culture). In the news release, she said the existence of traditional knowledge is because of the survival of Indigenous people.

“Indigenous people survived mentally, physically, socially, but the greatest challenge was to acknowledge survival by spirituality,” said Murray in a statement from UM. “Traditional knowledge and practices are a holistic and interrelated worldview that Indigenous people believe was given to them by the Creator. Knowledge lives in people.”

In the news release, UM President Seth Bodnar said he is pleased for UM to be a part of the Mellon Foundation to support Indigenous teachings and research approaches for the university’s humanities curricula and to support faculty, staff, students, and campus community members.

The following people are involved in the project from various of programs and offices on campus: Annie Belcourt, (Blackett, Chippewa, Mandan, Hidasta,), Heather Cahoon (Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes), Karla Bird (Blackfeet), Sanchez, and Amy Fowler Kitch, who is a deputy chief of staff to the president and a senior member of the project.

“By connecting the direct guidance of elders and other Indigenous knowledge holders to Indigenous research and teaching across our Humanities and Arts curricula, the University of Montana intends to provide a national model to incorporate Indigenous ways of knowing into higher education,” Sanchezsaid.

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