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Arlee Celebration Brings Science To Flathead Reservation

The Arlee Celebration continues for the 117th year this weekend with ceremonial and traditional gatherings of Native Americans. On Thursday, rows of cars were parked and campers were there to enjoy a food, face painting, teepees and dancing.

But there’s also science.

In one row of tents and campers, there’s a spot that holds x-rays of animals, water bugs from a nearby river and furry pelts piled on top of a table. A University of Montana museum called SpectrUM is responsible for this site, but another school museum, a little more well-known, has also taken notice of Arlee.

“I will never forget getting their application across my desk,” Julie Fooshe says.

Fooshe works for Science Festival Alliance under M.I.T, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Their goal is to help improve science festivals in Canada and the U.S. Fooshe discovered SpectrUM when they applied for a grant a few years ago.

“The work that they do is just unparalleled," Fooshe explained. "I haven’t seen something like this. We have a lot of festivals that serve different audiences, but I haven’t seen another one that reaches out to a community the way this one reaches out to the Native American community, the way they work with them, the way they put them in charge of the science and makes them the ones celebrating it.”

SpectrUM is here through their outreach program called the science learning tent. And today’s focus is on ecosystems.

This exhibit started with suggestions from SciNation, a group of half-a-dozen people on the Flathead reservation who care about getting kids involved in science. They helped tailor SpectrUM’s traveling exhibits to be more specialized to the community’s science needs.

Stephanie Gillin is a wildlife biologist from the Flathead reservation who works for the Confederated Salish and Kootnai Tribes. She wants more people to return to the reservation to inspire the younger generation.

“Postive role models that have either gone on and gotten a higher education and are members in our tribe," Gillin says. "I’m interested in getting kids interested that it’s possible for children to get a higher education and hopefully bring that back to the reservation.”

The Science Learning Tent during the Arlee Celebration is the biggest project for SciNation, but they focus on having STEM events throughout the year too. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math, which is an acronym thrown around often in the learning tent. This focus on science year-round and SciNation's involvement is what sets them apart from the other outreach programs through the SpectrUM museum.

SpectrUM director, Holly Truitt, says the Flathead community has really set a precedent with their work.

Truitt explains, “So I define success as really the type of work we’re doing here on the Flathead Reservation and that is deep engagement that is community based, working hand in hand with parents, with teachers, with stem role models to create programs that are uniquely designed for that children of that community and uniquely designed to move forward the social change of that community, as well."

The Science Learning Tent will be at the Arlee Celebration Friday, July 3, from noon to 8 p.m. with a new set of exhibits involving health and the human anatomy.

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