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Joseph Franklin McDonald ( West Yellowstone 1951 )

posted: Dec 23, 2023

Joe, 90, died December 14, 2023, in Ronan, Montana. He was born March 31, 1933, in St. Ignatius, Montana. Joe spent his early days growing up with family at his dad's homes at Post Creek, within eyesight of the Ft. Connah Trading Post. During grade school and high school, Joe helped and became quite involved with the family's horses, learning to ride, race and rope, and going on many pack trips to the mountains and trips to and from the family ranch. He attended high school in both St. Ignatius and in Dixon, as the family had homes at both Post Creek and Dixon Agency. He sometimes changed his attendance based on the sport he wanted to play. While at St. Ignatius his sophomore year, the football team won the State Class C Championship. Joe graduated that spring from St. Ignatius High School in 1951.

After high school, Joe worked as a USFS smokejumper and was stationed in West Yellowstone. The jumpers were a natural progression for Joe as he had gotten into the business of working at wildfire support camps at the young age of 12, a time when many young men were away from the reservation during WWII. While at West Yellowstone, he crossed paths with a coach from Dillon H.S. who promised to get Joe a scholarship to play basketball at Western Montana College. The coach delivered and Joe played football, basketball, and baseball at Western. Joe endeavored to be on every athletic team bus that ever departed from Dillon. He earned an Associate degree and teaching certificate at Western Montana College in 1953.

After earning his teaching certificate, Joe taught and coached various schools across the state of Montana from 1953-1964. He attended the University of Montana, earning Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Education and Health and P.E. From 1964-1965 he was the Assistant Basketball Coach at the U of M. Other professional accomplishments of Joe's included coaching basketball and track at Northern Montana College (1965-1967), serving as high school principal and assistant superintendent at Ronan Public Schools while coaching many sports (1967-1978), serving two terms on the CSKT Tribal Council from 1974-1982, acting as the Title III Coordinator for Flathead Valley Community College, and with his Doctorate of Education from U of M, he then supported efforts to establish and lead Salish Kootenai College as its President from 1978-2010.

Throughout his career, Joe helped create school athletic programs to help keep youth interested in school and helped set up tutoring programs for Native students, sponsored Indian clubs to help students solve problems and stay in school, introduced an Indian Studies curriculum, advocated for the Salish language to be taught for the first time in a public school on the reservation, and coached and refereed when and where needed on courts and in the classroom.

Salish Kootenai College was a love of his life. He served the college in many capacities including janitor, instructor, committee member, administrator, fundraiser, and coach. He advocated for the college to serve the broader reservation community and Tribe through teaching the Salish and Kootenai languages, drumming and singing and other traditional and cultural skills. His efforts in educational leadership earned him many recognitions including honorary degrees from Gonzaga University and Montana State University. He also dedicated much of his time to continuing writing and recording the history of the Flathead Reservation. Joe jumped at WYS 1951-52 and Missoula 1953-55.