A new facility honoring activist Elouise Cobell and her legacy will take shape in the basement of the Payne Family Native American Center at the University of Montana. Students will have the opportunity to learn about and work on reservation land and culture issues.
Construction of the Elouise Cobell Land and Culture Institute begins in July and is projected to last about a year. Funding for the project was provided by the University, UM alumnus Terry Payne and private donors.
The new facility will include two laboratories containing advanced technological tools that will help students build digital maps of reservations, with the possibility of showing land ownership, natural resources and even a history of the land.
David Beck, professor and chair of the Native American Studies department at UM, said the facility will be a place “where our students can help their tribes on how to use their land.”
The lab will also provide students and faculty the opportunity to archive and preserve stories, languages, films and other cultural materials.
Christopher Comer, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, hopes the lab will train students “how to make things work better for the native communities,” he said.
A long-distance learning element of the institute will allow students and faculty to work with other students and cultures in different parts of the world, not just the state and country.
Aaron Brien, a student majoring in Native American studies and anthropology, said, “For both fields, something like (the new facility) is extremely useful.”
“Maybe this can bridge something,” he said about Native and non-Native students coming together to use the facility.