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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


October 19, 2002 - Issue 72


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Surprise Parties

by Jane Rider of the Missoulian
credits: photo of Julie Cajune courtesy of Salish Kootenai College
editor's note: We contacted Julie. Here is what she said about the award:
"I have been extremely privileged and fortunate to be working in my home community and following the footsteps and labor of so many extraordinary people. The award should really be given to communities, as none of us do our work in isolation. So many people have labored with love for generations to make schools more just and humane for Indian students."
Julie Cajune photo courtesy of  Salish Kootenai CollegeLinda McCulloch traveled to Condon and Ronan on Tuesday guarding two well-kept secrets, each worth $25,000.

As state superintendent of public instruction, she claimed her visits were part of a tour she makes each fall to schools across Montana, arriving first at Swan Valley Elementary School, where the student body of about 46 students gathered in the K-8 gymnasium to welcome her.

Just a few hours later, she floated the same cover story at K. William Harvey Elementary School in Ronan, where about 500 students assembled in the gym. The Ronan High School show choir sang "America the Beautiful," and a quartet of hand drummers performed the Flag Song, a tradition as important to American Indians as the national anthem is to non-Indians.

But at each site, McCulloch quickly revealed her ruse and the real purpose of her visit: Someone at their school had won the Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award, one of two earned in Montana this year.

"One of the most outstanding educators in the country is right here in your school," she said.

At Swan Valley, principal and teacher Kitty Logan appeared stunned when she heard McCulloch announce her name. Students erupted in cheers as Logan blinked a few times and then quietly said, "I don't know what to say. Wow."

In Ronan, McCulloch played out a similar scenario full of surprise, before a larger student body. This time Julie Cajune was named the unsuspecting winner.

"She began her teaching career right here in this building," said Principal Jim Gillhouse. "We are very fortunate to have her. She is very, very deserving of this award."

"I'm glad this happened here," said Cajune, Ronan School District's Indian education coordinator. "Lemt lemtch," she told the crowd, which means "thank you" in Salish.

At Ronan Schools, Cajune works with teachers to integrate the American Indian perspective into classroom studies of history, science and literature.

"She's done so much in the area of curriculum," said Ronan Superintendent Robert Voth. "She constantly reminds all of us of the Native American perspective and models it for us."

She is also well respected across the state and region, serving on the Montana/Wyoming Indian Education Association Board and participating in national discussions concerning Indian education, he added.

"I think it is an award for the whole school district," Cajune said. "The superintendent and principals and teachers have really afforded me the professional respect. That's why we've been able to accomplish so much."

"It shows people can come together and create something better for kids - even a diverse group of people," she said.

Joyce Silverthorne, tribal education director and a Montana Board of Public Education member, said Cajune had to overcome tough odds and succeeded.

"She began this at a time when people weren't really ready to hear a message of diversity and she's handled it with grace," Silverthorne said.

"Kids are her first priority," she said.

In addition to the $25,000 unrestricted cash award, Cajune and Logan receive all-expense-paid trips to Los Angeles in April to participate in an educational retreat with Milken Award winners from the 46 other participating states.

Candidates don't apply for the award, nor are they nominated. The Office of Public Instruction identifies them from a talent pool, based on their commitment to excellence, innovation in teaching methods and outstanding educational leadership, including their ability to motivate students.

Since Montana joined the Milken Educators Awards program in 1993, the foundation has honored 40 Montana educators for a total of $1 million. That total includes the awards handed out Tuesday.

Ronan, MT MAP
Maps by Travel

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