UM’s Tribal Outreach Specialist Important Bridge for Native Students
MISSOULA – As the University of Montana’s tribal outreach specialist, Brad Hall plays a pivotal role in helping UM create and sustain meaningful relationships with tribal communities.
Coming from the Blackfeet Nation, he serves as a UM liaison, resource and support to Native students throughout the region. On campus he adds to the strength of the existing tribal community conscience, lending insights and perspectives to everything from course content to Native-focused programming.
The job is nuanced, challenging and deeply rewarding, Hall said and has him shuttling around the state meeting with prospective students, hosting events and guests in UM’s Payne Family Native American Center and consulting with leadership and faculty on matters pertaining to Native students and their education.
“I feel like I’ve been preparing my entire career to fulfill my role here,” he said of his job, the first he has held outside of Native organizations.
President Seth Bodnar created Hall’s position at the recommendation of Montana’s tribal college presidents during their annual meeting at UM. The on-campus President’s Native American Advisory Council then crafted the position as a key component of UM’s focus on student success, and a number of tribal college presidents participated in interviewing candidates. Hall is a member of the President’s Office staff and reports to Chief of Staff Kelly Webster.
“Brad plays such an important role in not just recruiting Native students to UM but also in being a champion of their success,” Bodnar said. “Already, he has helped UM become a community more rigorously committed to diversity, equity and inclusion on campus and throughout the state.”
Raised outside of Browning on his family's ranch, Hall spent his early career committed to improving education systems on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. He served as a social studies teacher and principal for the Heart Butte School and in an administrative position at Blackfeet Community College in Browning until he accepted his current role at UM in October 2019.
Along the way he earned a master’s degree in education and doctorate in educational leadership from Montana State University while expanding his outreach to other tribal communities through presentations and publications involving research and culturally based teaching approaches in Indian Country.
“Higher education has done it wrong for a long time when it comes to tribes and Native students,” Hall said. “There is still a lot of distrust, and it will take time to build better relationships that are still fragile.”
Hall talks often about teamwork and relationships when discussing his responsibilities at UM, which have grown since his arrival in 2019 to include an affiliation as a Native student support advocate in UM’s Alexander Blewett III School of Law.
“I’ve always been drawn to challenging roles that require you to build relationships and collaboration,” Hall said. “I like to say that my doctorate gave me the floor, but I always need to bring other people to the stage.”
Hall strives to apply the values of Blackfeet culture – honesty, compassion, respect, generosity, humility and courage – to his personal and professional life.
“It’s so important to be humble and teachable,” he said. “I’d much rather talk about our student successes than my own.”
Political science freshman O’Shay Birdinground, an enrolled member of the Crow Tribe from Billings, has worked with Hall on a number of Native initiatives on campus and in Montana. He credits Hall with helping him prepare public comments for the November 2021 Board of Regents meeting, when Birdinground offered suggestions for correcting blood quantum and financial needs requirements for tuition assistance under the state’s American Indian Tuition Waver.
“Brad’s help was monumental,” said Birdinground, who is a senator for the Associated Students of UM. “Without his support, I probably wouldn’t have given my comments and it wouldn’t have gotten the traction that it did.”
Heather Cahoon, assistant professor in the Department of Native American Studies and director of the American Indian Governance and Policy Institute at UM, said Hall has been an enthusiastic and knowledgeable resource for a recent effort to include tribal college students in the policy institute’s research projects.
“We met for a cup of coffee and Brad already had ideas,” said Cahoon, a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. “Brad brings this level of energy and engagement to all aspects of his job where he really rallies people and the campus to help Native students feel at home here.”
In his short tenure at UM, Hall said he has seen “huge headway” being made on campus toward providing Native students – and students of all backgrounds – with a safe and nurturing learning environment. There is still a long way to go, he said, but he is encouraged by growing awareness and support for students who benefit from his work and mission.
“The number one thing students need is community, and it’s in having shared values that they are able to thrive,” he said. “It’s important to tell Native students they belong here. I tell them that often.”
- by UM News Service -