National Park Service striving to increase Indian employment


PABLO, Mont. - The National Park Service has signed a historic Memorandum of Understanding with the American Indian Higher Education Consortium's Student Congress that's designed to increase diversity in the agency's work force.

The agreement, inked this spring at Salish Kootenai College in Pablo, is part of an ongoing effort to expand relationships with tribes, said Dan Harrison, the agency's chief of higher education and parks initiatives.

Harrison said in a telephone interview that similar memorandums have been signed with "various colleges and organizations" across the country. But this is the first time such a concrete step has been taken with the nation's tribal colleges.

The move, Harrison said, dovetails with other federal government efforts to better communicate with minorities. It follows agency action last year to establish a satellite uplink that tribal colleges could hook into. The uplink, he explained, was designed to spread information about employment opportunities within the gamut of Park Service programs.

"The National Park Service and Don Murphy, the deputy director, have been about inclusion," Harrison said. "We're trying to increase minority hiring." He added that the agency is expanding its internship offerings and is taking other steps to put out a welcome mat.

"But part of the deal is that you have to let people know that," he said. "Before you go out and do hard recruiting, you have to let them know about the opportunities."

The agency hires hundreds of seasonal workers at its parks, monuments and other facilities around the nation. Summer jobs fit well with students, and seasonal work, combined with the right education, can often lead to longtime careers.

Along with connecting students with jobs, the action means the Park Service has vowed to work more closely with the student organization by sponsoring various leadership development events and public relations activities, among other measures, said Dana Grant, Salish Kootenai College's director of development.

"We're very excited about it and are very glad that the Park Service wanted to do it," Grant said. "We're hoping it will lead to other possibilities for our students in the future. We also hope it will lead to the opening of other doors with other federal agencies."