BOISE, Idaho - Elissa Flandro is beginning her college career at Stanford University, and she's the first enrolled member of the Kalispel Tribe to do so. The fact that she's going to college should not come as a surprise, as it seems to be a family tradition. Her grandmother, who grew up on the Kalispel Reservation, was the first college graduate from the tribe when she got her degree in 1974. Three years later, Flandro's mother, Debbie, became the third tribal member to graduate from college.
The intervening years saw a few more people graduate, but it's just been in the last few years that more and more are headed to college or to some other post-high school technical or trade school.
Flandro was raised in Boise, far from the reservation near the Canadian border. She graduated last spring from Bishop Kelly High School, where she not only excelled academically, but in track as well.
''I did cross country in fall and track in spring,'' she related. ''All four years in high school, we won the state cross country championship. My freshmen year, we also won the state track championship.'' During her senior year she was team captain for both cross country and track.
Flandro also ran in the state meet in both sports. She said that in her freshman year, she medaled in two events, adding, ''I think I medaled every year in track except this year. I was injured and only ran one race.'' She ran both the 800-meter and mile, and usually ran a 4x4 relay as well.
Track was a consideration for college as well and she was being recruited by Santa Clara. ''I was considering that till I found out about being accepted at Stanford,'' she said. It appears her track career is finished, but the next step of her life is just beginning.
She decided early that she wanted to do some kind of engineering or architecture. With architecture as a possibility, it was suggested that it might be wise to take a drawing class as well. She did that through an advance placement class that gave her college credit.
''It was a lot of work, but I learned a lot and it was pretty fun,'' she laughed. She took other advance placement classes as well and will have eight credits she can transfer to Stanford, primarily in biology and statistics.
Two possible majors she's considering are both offered through the engineering school. One is a product design emphasis and the other is architecture.
''I think one of the two is what I'll like,'' she added.
Dartmouth was the other school she seriously considered and had been accepted there.
''Dartmouth has great focus on Native American and Native studies and programs like that. It boiled down to those two schools. I chose Stanford for two reasons: my dad was an alumnus, but mostly it was the location, just a lot closer to home.''
Growing up in Boise nearly 600 miles from the Kalispel Reservation didn't give her much association with the reservation. She did spend the summer of 2005 working at the Museum of American Culture in Spokane. It has a large Native collection and gave her the opportunity to work in its archives and collections. One job involved going through negatives of old photographs, which led to a happy coincidence.
''I had my grandma come down one day. She didn't have any pictures of her family because when she was growing up, her house burned and they lost all their pictures. She found all these pictures in the MAC archives she'd never seen before. No one had been identified in the pictures, so she sat down and identified everyone. In exchange, they made copies of all the pictures for her,'' she explained.
The next step in her life will be to become the third member of her family to graduate from college - and the first Kalispel to graduate from Stanford.