University Relations and Communications

MSUB Powwow honors ‘Generations of a Higher Education'

MSUB Powwow

Pictured left to right: Family members MSUB student Ivy Bird, Eastern Montana College alumna Majel Russell, EMC alumna Sharon Stands Over Bull (Russell), and the late Josephine Russell, a 1940 graduate of Linfield Baptist College in Oregon.



March 22, 2016


Reno Charette, American Indian Outreach, 657-2182
Carmen Price, University Relations and Communications, 657-2266


The two-day event will be held April 8-9 in the Alterowitz Gymnasium; Grand Entry begins at 6 p.m. on Friday and at noon on Saturday


MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — Not only was education a tradition in Ivy Bird’s family, it was an expectation.


The tradition of higher education in the Montana State University Billings student’s family started generations ago with her great-grandmother, Josephine Russell, who set the standard for all her descendants, Bird said.


“Higher education has been a pretty important value passed on to each generation, and I feel proud, and a sense of responsibility to carry on this tradition,” the 28-year-old art education major said.


She, along with several of her family members, will honor their “Generations of a Higher Education Tradition” at the 48th Annual MSUB Powwow on April 8-9, held in the Alterowitz Gymnasium. Grand entry begins at 6 p.m. on Friday and at noon on Saturday.


The MSUB Powwow is one of the oldest collegiate powwows in the state and one of the largest university-sponsored powwows in the Northwest. The two-day event attracts nearly 3,000 people annually from tribes across the country, the Office of American Indian Outreach Director Reno Charette said.


“The powwow integrates Native American heritage with higher education,” Charette said. “This year we are honoring generations of a higher education tradition and being strong leaders and mentors of future generations.”


Bird recalls many mentors—a long list of well-educated Crow women in her family. Among them is her grandmother, Sharon Stands Over Bull (Russell), a 1972 Eastern Montana College alumna and educator who served as the high school and elementary principal in Pryor, as well as her mother, Majel Russell, an attorney and principal of her law practice, where she focuses on the Crow tribe and the protection of their land and sovereignty. Majel is also an EMC alumnus who double majored in psychology and sociology in 1984 prior to earning her law degree from the University of Montana. She later served as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior.


“I feel very honored to come from this line of women who worked hard for their great accomplishments,” Bird said, who is following in the career footsteps of her great-grandmother Russell as an educator.


Russell graduated in 1940 from Linfield Baptist College in Linfield, Ore., with a degree in home economics and went on to become the first Crow Indian teacher on the Crow Reservation, a career that spanned 22 years. In 1965, she became the first director of the original Head Start Program serving the Crow Tribe.


In addition to her fulltime teaching career, Russell raised three girls who as adults also obtained college degrees—Sharon Stands Over Bull and Ramona Realbird became educators while Angela Russell a licensed social worker, tribal court judge and a legislator for the Montana and Crow legislatures.


Raised by her grandmother, Josephine Russell, Majel said her mentors were the women in her family.


“My grandmother’s commitment to higher education and service to the community, particularly the reservation community, were very influential in my life,” Majel said. “She insured that we maintained a great respect for culture and that we could co-exist as educated and cultural tribal members.”


During her time at EMC, Majel excelled in her classes despite being a young mother. Heavily involved in the annual powwow and Indian Club, she was selected as the 1984 Student of the Year upon graduation.


“I worked to create a community of Indian students that could support each other through higher education trials,” Majel said.

That community still thrives on campus, and Majel is happy and proud her daughter, Ivy Bird, is a part of it.


And, just like Josephine Russell who worked to improve the standard of living for Crow people through her commitment to teaching Crow youth, Bird strives to one-day impact her tribe’s youth through teaching art, particularly ceramics she said.


“All of the women in my family have worked to make positive differences in their communities,” she said. “I hope to also be that positive influence to future generations.”


Bird said she looks forward to giving thanks to the many influential generations before her during a special “Generational Dance” at the powwow.


Grand Entry is set for Friday at 6 p.m. and Saturday at noon, led by dignitaries from throughout the area. Dance and drum competitions with cash prizes will follow. Head Woman Dancer this year is MSUB student Darriann Flying Horse of the Sioux tribe, and the Head Man Dancer is MSUB student Devon Oleyte of the Crow Tribe.


This year’s arena director is Blackfeet Tribe member and MSUB alumni Mike Comes At Night, a teacher for the Browning School District. The announcer is Charles Moran of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa/Sioux Tribe.


The MSUB Alumni Association will host an Alumni Brunch on Saturday, April 9, at 9 a.m. in the College of Education Building, room 122.


Dr. Jeffrey Sanders, Professor of American Indian Studies in the Department of Social Sciences and Cultural Studies will receive his Crow name during the brunch. Sanders, who will retire following this semester, has had a teaching career at MSUB that spans more than 20 years. 


Jeffrey Sanders, Christine Shearer, Bernadette, Fred CharetteSanders will also be adopted into Fred and Bernadette Charette family on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. during the powwow, making him a member of the Ties The Bundle Clan of the River Crow.


“This ceremony is part of cultural traditions,” Reno Charette said. “We value kinship, and someone can be adopted into a family at any age.”


Charette said that Sanders has had an impact on 13,000 students over the course of his career at MSUB, instructing on average 13 classes annually, with about 50 students per class, she said.


Many generations, she said, have been positively affected through Sanders’ instruction, with a majority of them being American Indian.


“He is teaching the children and grandchildren of his original students, and we want to honor his great impact of teaching generations of students receiving higher education.”


To register for the powwow and for more information, visit the MSU Billings Powwow webpage or email


Photo Caption: Dr. Jeffrey Sanders, second from left, is pictured with College of Arts and Sciences Dean Christine Shearer, left, and Bernadette and Fred Charette. The Charette family will adopt Dr. Sanders on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. during the powwow, making him a member of the Ties The Bundle Clan of the River Crow.


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