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Salish elder honored with doctorate

News from the University of Montana

MISSOULA – Salish tribal elder Louis “Louie” Adams has spent a lifetime teaching others the stories, culture and language of his people. The University of Montana honored this tireless educator with an honorary doctorate of humane letters. His nomination was approved by the state Board of Regents on March 6, and he will be awarded the honorary doctorate during UM’s 118th Commencement Ceremony Saturday in Washington-Grizzly Stadium on May 16. 

“During the groundbreaking ceremony for the Missoula College building, Mr. Adams told the audience his grandmother was born on the land where the University now sits,” UM President Royce Engstrom said. “Several of his family members have since attended the University. Mr. Adams himself did not receive formal education beyond the eighth grade, but he is a lifelong learner and teacher, and his regard for UM is clear.”

Born in 1933, Adams worked on the family farm before becoming a jockey in the summer horseracing circuit. He then joined the U.S. Navy for four years, serving as a gunner’s mate on a destroyer during the Korean War. Returning home to Montana, he worked various jobs, including decades as a forester for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. He retired in 2002.

Adams served 14 years on the tribal council starting in 1976, and he remains active with the Salish-Pend d’Oreille Elders Cultural Advisory Council and many other groups and organizations. He has shared his knowledge at countless meetings, classes, field trips, speaking engagements and traditional gatherings throughout the Pacific Northwest, including frequent stops at UM. Adams grew up speaking Salish and is dedicated to preserving the language.

His nomination came from Associated Students of UM President Asa Hohman and Vice President Sean McQuillan, who listened to him speak at the MC groundbreaking ceremony. They wrote, “It is clear Mr. Adams has a deep respect and commitment to the cause of higher education in the state and also a sincere love for (UM). It was his passion and experience that convinced us he was an excellent candidate for an honorary doctorate.”

George Price, a faculty member in UM’s history and Native American studies departments, said Adams never turns down requests to speak at departmental graduations and other Native tribal events across campus.

 “One remarkable aspect of his presentations that I have witnessed repeatedly over the years is how he seeks to unite people across all cultural lines and break down divisions between people within our shared society,” Price wrote. “I have never heard Louie say a negative word about another human being, and his consistently positive attitude toward all people, and toward life itself, has served as a very positive example for his audiences — especially his young students.”

All but one of Adams’ eight children attended UM. 

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