Passions, One Career
Montgomery ’10 gets the question a lot: Are you Native American?
not. But her sympathies and passion align with Native American issues, particularly
when it comes to the environmental viability of the lands on which many Native
American people live.
When she graduates on May 16,
Montgomery will be the first Smith student to complete the
Five College Native American Indian Studies (5CNAIS) certificate.
The 10-year-old, seven-course program focuses on the histories,
cultures and contemporary issues of Native American Indian
people in the Western Hemisphere.
“My favorite courses have been my courses in Native American studies,” says Montgomery. “The
classes that have made me think, that have uncomfortable moments with other people
in class—these courses have taught more than others I’ve taken.”
Montgomery’s interests in Native American culture didn’t begin in college. She
grew up in western Montana, outside Missoula, near the Flathead Indian Reservation,
home to the Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Her mother worked as a social worker
on the reservation.
“Mom brought stories home from the reservation,” she recalls. “When we watched
movies, like Dances With Wolves, she’d say, ‘That’s not really how it happened.’ I
always wanted to know more.”
Her passion for the environment
and her love for the outdoors steered Montgomery to a major
in biology. But her fondness for history and Native American
issues consistently attracted her to courses such as Native
South Americans, taught by Donald Joralemon, professor of
anthropology, and those taught by Neal Salisbury, Barbara
Richmond 1940 Professor Emeritus in the Social Sciences.
Montgomery plans to combine
her two interests after leaving Smith by continuing her focus
on bioremediation, the study of methods by which plants and
bacteria can be used to clean toxins, such as PCBs, a widespread
industrial pollutant in the United States, and uranium pollution,
a major problem on some Indian reservations. She plans to
enter graduate school to study environmental science and
policy, at either Duke University or the University of California
Montgomery saw firsthand the
damage that pollutants can wreak when she worked last summer
to help clean PCBs from the St. Lawrence River, near the
Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne, N.Y. The chemicals infected the
fish, a source of food for the residents.
“I want to help clean up environmental messes like that and make sure they don’t
happen again,” she says. “And I can’t forget about this part of our history.”
At Smith, Montgomery chaired
the student organization ISSA, Indigenous Smith Students
and Allies, and helped coordinate an April symposium on “Native Americans
and Environmental Health.”
Her interest in Native American
issues frequently leads to inquiries about her background.
“I’m just passionate about Native American issues,” she responds. “Smith gets
us pumped up for things we’re passionate about.”