BOZEMAN – Loren BirdRattler, a member of the Blackfeet Nation who coordinated the country’s first in-house indigenous agricultural resource management plan, has been appointed the Montana State University Katz Endowed Chair in Native American Studies.

 BirdRattler will use his organizational development background to help lead an Indigenous Research  Initiative that was formally introduced at MSU’s Tribal Partnerships event last month, according to Walter Fleming, head of MSU’s Department of Native American Studies in the College of Letters and Science. The initiative will examine best practices for establishing and maintaining equitable partnerships between MSU and tribes for research conducted within tribal nations.

Loren BirdRattler, a member of the Blackfeet Nation, has been appointed the Montana State University Katz Endowed Chair in Native American Studies.
(MSU Photo by Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez)

BirdRattler will also work with MSU Native American Studies graduate students to better prepare them for careers working in or with Native communities. And, he will deliver several public lectures, including MSU’s annual Berger lecture, which will be held in February.

 “We think Loren will be invaluable in terms of his experience in service to his tribe,” Fleming said.

 BirdRattler worked for more than 20 years in Washington, D.C., and additionally in Indian Country, within both public and private sectors as a strategic planner and policy developer, project manager and organizational developer. Most recently, BirdRattler led a community development planning effort creating the Blackfeet Agriculture Resource Management Plan. The Blackfeet ARMP is the first in-house indigenous agricultural plan in the country. BirdRattler said the tribe hopes the plan will positively affect economic growth, health, local food systems and employment within tribal nations. Last year, BirdRattler addressed the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues about the Blackfeet ARMP, a presentation that was so successful he was invited to return to address the U.N. General Assembly.

 BirdRattler has worked with MSU for several years as a key member of the university’s Native Land Project, which assists tribes with initiatives ranging from promoting holistic sustainable food systems and indigenous planning to supporting allotted landowners within tribal nation lands. Kristin Ruppel, professor of Native American Studies and director of the Native Land Project, said BirdRattler’s leadership and talents led her to nominate him for the Katz position.

 “Loren is this amazing combination of visionary thinker and strategic planner and doer,” Ruppel said. “With his style of inclusive leadership, I think the university is seeing itself in a different light when it comes to how well we serve indigenous students and Native nations. We can always do better. Loren helps us see how to connect what we do as administrators, scholars and teachers with what’s happening in communities.”

 BirdRattler said his agricultural expertise is rooted in his family’s ranching background – one side of his family had a cattle ranch, the other raised racehorses. He grew up on a ranch 40 miles south of Browning and attended Blackfeet Community College before studying business administration at the University of Montana. Soon after, his work took him to Washington, D.C., where he was a national field director for the Native Vote Initiative for the National Congress of American Indians. He has also been a public program specialist for the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian and a program manager for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Native American Lands Environmental Mitigation Program, based in Arlington, Virginia. He has also worked for the U.S. Agriculture Department and the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute.

 BirdRattler has lectured at the Kennedy School of Government and the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University, as well as at the Salazar Center for North American Conservation’s inaugural international symposium on conservation impact at Colorado State University. He is a recipient of the President's Medal for Social Embeddedness from the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.

 Regionally, BirdRattler has served as the executive director for two nonprofits, Western Native Voice and Montana Native Vote, both based in Billings.

 BirdRattler said that, as a result of his work, he believes a variety of health problems within American Indian nations – including diabetes, heart health and other issues – require a holistic approach beginning with establishing sustainable food systems. He has encouraged such solutions as community-led economic development, as well as seniors’ and children’s access to healthy, culturally relevant foods. He said he hopes to continue work in this area while at MSU.

 “I’d like to work for a community-based response (to some of these problems) rather than approaching them in silos,” BirdRattler said. “By using a more holistic approach we can involve all segments of the community, and by uniting it, we can make it stronger.”

 BirdRattler is MSU’s fourth Katz Endowed Professor of Native American Studies. Henrietta Mann (Southern Cheyenne-Arapahoe), Bill Yellowtail (Crow) and Joseph B. Gone (Gros Ventre) have held the position previously.

 “On a personal level, I think Loren is a wonderful role model for our students,” Fleming said. “He is not only very intelligent, but sincere, humble and hard-working. We hope to tap into that.”

 - By Carol Schmidt, MSU News Service -