Student Mary Rogers Preserves Historic Tribal Records

Student Mary Rogers is earning her MLIS degree to support her work as Database and Historical Records Manager for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Historic Preservation Department.

Rogers’ job involves identifying and locating all written documents about the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes, entering those records into a database, and indexing each record to enable searching by tribe members, government officials, and other researchers. The database currently holds more than 5,000 records including 1,500 historical documents and 3,000 newspaper articles.

Rogers works to track down tribal records that are scattered across the continent in different repositories, from Denver to Washington D.C. to Canada. She also researches pioneer settlers’ journals in local Montana historical societies to find information that’s key to protecting tribal claims and cultural heritage. “There may only be one mention of the tribes, only one line on one page of the journal, but it proves that the tribes were in that location, what time of year they were there, and what they might have been doing,” Rogers explained.

 

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes include members of the Bitterroot Salish, the Pend d’Oreille, and the Kootenai tribes, who once lived in western Montana, parts of Idaho, British Columbia and Wyoming. The tribes were relocated to the Flathead Indian Reservation in northwest Montana by the U.S. government in 1855.

Rogers’ mother comes from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai people, and her father, a veteran, is a member of the Choctaw Nation from Oklahoma. Her family moved frequently to different military bases in Mississippi, Tennessee, North Carolina, Oklahoma, California, and Iceland while Rogers was growing up. When she was a teenager Rogers always sought out the library on each new military base to gather information about the area. “I may not have been able to find the grocery store, but I could always find my way to the library,” she said.

Rogers moved to the Flathead Reservation in 1997 after earning a BA in Journalism and Photographic Arts from the University of Central Oklahoma and taking graduate classes in anthropology at the University of Oklahoma. Her love of history and her organizational skills helped her obtain her position with the Tribal Historic Preservation Department in 2001.

“I decided to study library and information science because I want to be able to find knowledge and provide that knowledge to others, to the very best of my ability,” Rogers said.

Rogers has been interested in earning her MLIS for a number of years, but didn’t want to leave her family and travel out-of-state to attend school. (There is no library science program in Montana.) The Circle of Learning program turned out to be the right fit for her, and she enrolled in our School’s MLIS program in Spring 2011.

Circle of Learning is a partnership between SLIS and the American Indian Library Association (AILA). The program provides financial assistance and other support to American Indians and Alaska Natives who want to earn an MLIS degree. It is made possible by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. “Circle of Learning is an absolutely wonderful experience,” Rogers said. “Everyone is so supportive.”

After completing her first semester in the MLIS program, Rogers is already making changes to the way she organizes and archives historic tribal records. She’s planning to restructure the keywords in the database and use preferred terms to help users search more quickly and efficiently.

Rogers hopes to graduate from SLIS in Spring 2014 and dreams of someday working at the National Archives. “There’s so much information there that we don’t have available to us here on the reservation,” she said. “To be able to spend time with all of that knowledge would be fascinating.”