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Native American Law Student Association week honors Terry Payne

By Lailani Upham

Terry Payne of the Payne Financial Group, was the largest contributor/fundraiser of the UM’s Native American Center project that cost approximately $6 million. (Lailani Upham photo) Terry Payne of the Payne Financial Group, was the largest contributor/fundraiser of the UM’s Native American Center project that cost approximately $6 million. (Lailani Upham photo)

MISSOULA — This year the Native American Law Student Association celebrated Elouise Cobell, lead plaintiff in the landmark class action suit that last year won $3.4 billion for hundreds of thousands of Indian people whose trust funds were mismanaged by the federal government, through recognizing and presenting an award to Terry Payne of the Payne Financial Group.

The Elouise Cobell Award is the first of it’s kind from NALSA, according to Maylinn Smith, Director of the University of Montana Indian Law Center.

The 2010 UM Payne Family Native American Center is a symbol of bridging Native American and mainstream cultures and is the first facility in the nation built to accommodate a Department of Native American Studies, an American Indian Student services office, and other related campus programming.

“He (Payne) was championed the project (of the UM Native American Center) in 2005-06. He helped raise funds for it, and was determined to not let the project die. The family stood behind it and did what they could to see it built, “ said Steven Small, NASLA President.

The Native American building is a hub to launch tribal students and empower graduates to return to their communities to become leaders and create an epicenter for tribal leaders from Montana, the region and nation to gather, unite, and address some of the common challenges.

According to the UM enrollment records, the Native American student enrollment has been at a steady climb since 1990.

In 1990, there were 239 Native students; by 2005 the numbers reached to 497.

The University of Montana’s Payne Family Native American Center, a 19,900 square-foot facility completed in 2010 cost close to $6 million. Mr. Terry Payne was the largest contributor of the project, stated Smith.

Steven Small, NASLA President and Maylinn Smith, Director of the University of Montana Indian Law Center enjoy the awards banquet and auction in downtown Missoula last Thursday. (Lailani Upham photo) Steven Small, NASLA President and Maylinn Smith, Director of the University of Montana Indian Law Center enjoy the awards banquet and auction in downtown Missoula last Thursday. (Lailani Upham photo)

Last week, the annual NASLA Indian Law week, hosted by the UM, was open to the public and covered critical issues ranging from Indian Law to Indian Child Welfare Act to tribal energy development.

The Native American Law Students Association, a national organization, was founded in 1970 to promote the study of Federal Indian Law, Tribal Law and traditional forms of governance, and to support Native Americans in law school.

The goals of NASLA are to reach out to Native communities and encourage Native’s to pursue legal education and educated the legal community about the issues that affect tribes.

Terry Payne met Elouise Cobell while serving on the First Interstate Board of Directors several years ago said he had deep admiration and respect for her and is honored to have received an award in her name.

Cobell was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed in 1996 claiming the Interior Department had misspent, lost or stolen billions of dollars meant for Native American land trust account holders dating back to the 1880s.

Elouise Cobell, Blackfeet, when asked what she wanted her legacy to be, stated in a 2010 interview with The Associated Press that she hoped she would inspire a new generation of Native Americans to fight for the rights of others and lift their community out of poverty.

“Maybe one of these days, they won’t even think about me. They’ll just keep going and say, ‘This is because I did it,’” Cobell said. “I never started this case with any intentions of being a hero. I just wanted this case to give justice to people that didn’t have it.”

Cobell passed away of cancer at the age of 65, on October 16, 2011.

Statements were released calling Cobell an inspirational woman who challenged justice.

Several quotes are carved into the side of the Payne Native American Center including one by Arleen Adams, CSKT member who was the first to graduate from UM’s Native American Studies program in 1997: “Remember the bones and dust of our Salish ancestors,” it reads. “Remember all they have given up for you. Honor them and give back to this land your goodness and kindness.”

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