Groundbreaking Partnership made with CSKT

Groundbreaking Partnership made with CSKT

Special Olympics Montana (SOMT) is pleased to announce a three-year pilot project on the Flathead Reservation. The Flathead Reservation Pilot Project is a collaborative effort between Special Olympics Montana and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) to improve the health of intellectually disabled Montanans on the reservation. The goals of the project are to expand Special Olympics training and competition opportunities, offer free MedFest healthcare exams, and increase social inclusion by introducing education and sports based “Unified Strategies” programs (for students with and without intellectual disability) in 10 reservation schools (Head Start through college). Working with Tribal Health Director S. Kevin Howlett, the MT Department of Public Health and Human Services will provide data collection, analysis, and technical support to help evaluate the project’s effectiveness.

This effort was made possible through a combination of grant funding, donations, and in-kind support from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust ($250,000), Terry and Patt Payne ($50,000), the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community ($5,000), and CSKT. Tribal contributions include office space; designated staff to support medical and educational project components (Dr. Jera Stewart and Director of Tribal Education William Swaney, respectively); and physicians, dentists, nurses, and physical therapists at MedFest events. Education and biomedical careers students from Salish Kootenai College, among others, will serve as coaches and in other volunteer roles. The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust provided the largest single grant from a foundation that SOMT has ever received and the $50,000 donation from Terry and Patt Payne is among the most significant gifts ever received from an individual donor.

To lead the project, SOMT has hired April Charlo as the Tribal Outreach Director. April’s educational, professional, and personal background made her the ideal candidate. She has a master’s degree in educational leadership, a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, and an associate degree in Native American studies. Professionally, she most recently served as the Executive Director of Nkwusm, the Salish and Pend d’Oreille language immersion school in Arlee, MT and is a member of the Healthy Native Community Partnership (HNCP) board of directors. April was born and raised on the Flathead Reservation as a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and is committed to being a change agent on her reservation.

As the first project of its kind in Montana, SOMT and CSKT are both excited to embark on this endeavor. Bob Norbie, SOMT President/CEO, said, “As a movement of inclusion that lifts up and celebrates people of all abilities, we are grateful and privileged to partner with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. This being the first partnership we’ve formally had with a sovereign Tribal nation, we look forward to developing a model program that has application statewide.  To those who believe in this effort, we extend our deep gratitude to the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, Terry and Patt Payne, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes for helping underwrite this opportunity to transform lives and make our communities better places for all.”

CSKT Tribal Chairman, Vernon Finley endorsed the project at the February 18th Tribal Council meeting.  “I have learned from Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau that the Unified Strategies programs have been very effective in improving social conditions for intellectually disabled students in schools across the state, and they’re mandatory now in all Missoula Public Schools,” Finley said. “We’ve heard that though many intellectually disabled students in other districts participate in after-school Unified sports activities, even more, students without disabilities show up for these opportunities. This proves what we’ve known all along—that most students have big hearts. They just need an opportunity like this to show it.”

Elected officials and leaders across Montana have endorsed this effort through letters of support, including: U.S. Senator Jon Tester, U.S. Senator Steve Daines, Governor Steve Bullock, Attorney General Tim Fox, Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, the MT Advisory Council on Indian Education, Director of the MT Department of Public Health and Human Services Richard Opper, and Dean of the UM College of Humanities & Sciences Christopher Comer.

To participate as an SOMT athlete, Unified Partner, or volunteer, contact Tribal Outreach Director April Charlo at To contribute financial or in-kind project support, contact Major Gifts Officer Cindy Everts at

Related Links:

CSKT Tribal Council Resolution 
Pilot Project Executive Summary

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