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University of Idaho strengthens Native studies department

MOSCOW, Idaho - The University of Idaho made a strong commitment this summer to enhance its Native studies department with the addition of two full-time positions. Arthur Taylor, Nez Perce, joined the university as its new tribal liaison and Steve Martin, Muskogee Creek and Choctaw, was named director of the university's Native American Student Center.

The two were formally welcomed at a luncheon reception on the campus Sept. 26. Approximately 100 people attended the reception, including other faculty, Native students and representatives from at least eight reservations in the region. They met on the Kiva Lawn under a huge white tent to unite, laugh and hear from several speakers, including the two honorees. The meal featured such traditional foods as salmon, buffalo, frybread and a huckleberry dessert. Nez Perce student Trina Villalobos served as master of ceremonies and the Washington State University Palouse Falls Singers presented both opening and closing songs.

University of Idaho Provost Doug Baker discussed the school's strategic planning, which includes reaching out to communities throughout the state. ''Nothing is more important than tribal communities. It was clear we didn't have the right staffing to make those links and now we have the opportunity to make two wonderful hires. I want to say how proud I am we've hired Art Taylor and Steve Martin to join us and help us execute that strategic plan,'' he said.

University President Tim White echoed those sentiments, commenting, ''This is a day that gives me enormous pride. I am genuinely and deeply moved by what we are celebrating today and our aspirations for the future. We have gathered to think of a better and more productive future, one in which education becomes the key to create opportunity for both the Native community and all the students at the university by having a broader curriculum, a broader perspective of all the issues that face humanity. We'll do that through education.

''We need to look around this tent and look each other in the eye and see the future. How powerful it is. How wonderful it is that we have gathered. How important it is that we have gathered - and it's about time.''

White also announced that tribal leaders had met with university leadership that morning to discuss a formal memorandum of understanding. ''We agreed this morning, across the board, that we are ready to sign that document and move forward. This is an enormous step for the University of Idaho playing a leadership role.''

Taylor and Martin also spoke, thanking the university for taking a leadership role and for each of them to have the opportunity to be a part of that leadership. ''Native American education here at the University of Idaho has been moved to the forefront. I want the tribes to feel welcome here and to feel they have a place on the campus,'' Taylor said.

Martin came from Oklahoma via South Dakota State University, where he served as Native American student adviser and taught Native American studies at St. Joseph's Indian School. He will focus his efforts on outreach, student retention and program building at the University of Idaho. He will develop and oversee academic and personal development programs for Native students, including education and career planning, transition assistance and the coordination of cultural activities.

Martin has the background and knowledge to serve Native students, giving them a ''louder voice'' on campus and opening others' eyes to issues of American Indian students. During the reception he commented, ''If you speak from your heart, you can't go wrong.'' He acknowledged some lack of knowledge of local Native culture, but plans to soon fill any gaps, ''to gain a greater appreciation for the Native American students and for the tribal communities in this region.''

Taylor is essentially returning home to northern Idaho and the Nez Perce Reservation, where he was raised and served on the Tribal Executive Council for six years. He also taught an anthropology course about the Plateau Indians at the University of Idaho in the late 1990s. Most recently, he was assistant director of multicultural student programs and services at the University of Notre Dame since 2002.

As tribal liaison, he will work closely with Martin to create methods and services for recruiting and retaining Native students. His background will enable him to develop culturally sensitive protocols for communication and relationships between the school and area tribes. ''I see this as an opportunity with the University of Idaho to begin making the connection and investment between the tribes and the university. We have a lot of education and experience that we can learn from each other, and this new position is only the initial step,'' he said.