Laying the path to education and culture is what Kootenai Tribe of Idaho’s Chairwoman Jennifer Porter is doing as she serves her term.
Porter has been chairwoman for six years and is serving the second year of her second term.
At a young 37, Porter is bringing wisdom of tribal elders back into the students of the Kootenai Tribe.
She said her primary goals are to teach the children tribal culture and instill in them the importance of education.
There are 150 Kootenai Tribe members. Forty are school-age children who attend school in Boundary County School District public school, including Porter’s own three children, one of whom will graduate this year from high school.
“My biggest goal was to decrease the dropout rate of our kids,” said Porter. “This has happened already with only two dropping out and of those they received their GED.”
Not only does Porter promote high school graduation and education that will help the student go on to help with some of the environmental programs for the Kootenai Tribe.
“We have one doctor, a student who graduated from Florida State and one doing her masters program at Oregon State,” Porter said.
A Kootenai Tribe student can receive college scholarships through the Tribe to any college in the United States. They must be grade eligible but can attend college two, four or eight years or as long as they need to go to pursue the degree they wish to obtain. Porter wants to see more tribal students work hard enough to receive this great gift.
But education is not the only passion Porter has: The other is Kootenai culture. She wants to bring back some of the culture and history to the newer generation so they can carry it on to their kids.
I am trying to go back to the culture on language, dancing, singing and song that these kids just don’t know about,” said Porter.
There are so many beautiful stories and stories of very hard times the Kootenai Tribe endured.
They have been brave and strong with pride over the past hundreds and hundreds of years and Porter wants this to go on for hundreds of more years. She believes that starts with the kids.
The Kootenai people are born with a purpose. At the time of their birth the baby is given their Kootenai name from their grandmother. It is up to that child to find and act on their purpose.
Kooteani children have their own regalia and perform at county schools. This year they went to Valley View Elementary, demonstrating dance in full regalia and listened to stories told by a great story teller.
This year Valley View’s fourth grade class will enjoy some of the Kootenai Tribe’s history in their curriculum. Porter’s youngest daughter is in the fourth-grade class.
“I am something like a guidance counselor and try to send the kids in the right direction for them to remember where they came from and to learn as much as they can,” Porter said.
Porter has been working diligently on a computer program which will teach students 500 words in the Kootenai language. She and her sister have spent the past two years on the program which she hopes to finish soon.
It will have a program with the English word and Kootenai word, then phrases can be learned and passed along to their children.
“Back in the bad times, when people first came to our land they forbid the Kootenai people to speak their language,” said Porter.
No in better times Porter want to get back that tradition of learning and speaking Kootenai.
It is a privilege to be apart of small tribe with their own language and she wants the children to be proud of their language and pass it along.
By the time she is finished with the book, Porter said each every one in every household on the Kootenai Tribe will have a book and be able to learn up to 500 words.
“My sister has been working hours with me on this project and excited to finish it,” said Porter.
Porter said she is blessed to be in a position to be able to bring culture back into the tribe.