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A Place for Native Students

An agreement between North Idaho College and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe calls for a campus longhouse to serve as a gathering place for Native American students.

That longhouse is still just an idea, but in the basement of the Student Union building, a different gathering place is taking shape.

Evanlene Melting Tallow started as the college’s adviser to Native American students last month and plans to turn her office into a place where students can meet one another, get help with school work or just hang out.

“The whole goal here is to keep kids in school,” said Melting Tallow, 45. “I know personally that having that support when I went to school was huge.”

Her position at NIC isn’t new, but the focus has turned more to helping enrolled students than recruiting.

The tweaked job description stems from a decline in Native American students at the college over the past few years, said Eric Murray, NIC’s vice president for student services. More than 100 Native American students attended the school in 2003. This year, 72 are enrolled – a decline that shows NIC could do more to help students once they arrive, Murray said.

“There was really no point in recruiting students if we knew after a semester they were going to leave us,” he said. “If we’re recruiting Native students and we don’t have the support services in place to help make them feel comfortable, then we’re not serving them.”

Melting Tallow’s job involves meeting all Native American students, finding out their goals and helping them reach them, Murray said.

“That goal could be a degree, or that goal could be two semesters, or that goal could be one computer class,” he said. “Whatever that is, her job is to make sure they reach that goal.”

That will make Melting Tallow’s job a hodgepodge of academic and social advising. Just a month into the job, she is trying to turn her office into a meeting place for Native American students by adding computer work stations, inviting couches and chairs, and a refrigerator.

She wants to restart the American Indian Student Alliance Club and will host an open house for Native American students and their families later this month.

Helping the students already here will double as a recruiting tool, she said.

“If you have students who are graduating or students who are going home on break saying, ‘This is a great college,’? that word of mouth and advertisement is going to increase the enrollment,” she said.

A member of the Blackfeet and Bloodband tribes with citizenship in Canada and the United States, Melting Tallow moved to Spokane nearly two decades ago and earned degrees from Spokane Falls Community College and Eastern Washington University.

She has worked as a tutor and culture specialist in the Central Valley School District and an employment specialist and counselor to disadvantaged youth in Spokane’s Educational Service District. She has also helped Native Americans secure home loans as a mortgage lender for AmericanWest Bank.

Though she didn’t study education in college, she said her work always seems to lead her back to students. Her new position combines the academic and social work she’s done in the past.

“Academics is a big part of it, but you have to realize that everybody has families that are working plus going to school at the same time,” she said. “Everybody wants to be part of the community and not be a number.”

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