Professor of Native American studies, director of Native Action
Gail Small, a trained sociologist and attorney, has held a multitude of positions including the 1995 Ms. Magazine Woman of the Year. She was a 1997 appointee to the Federal Reserve Board’s consumer advocacy panel, a 2015 Leopold Leadership Fellow, director of the grassroots nonprofit Native Action and a long-term, stalwart protector of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation’s sovereignty, culture, religion and environment – all foundations of the tribal way of life. Small began her career with the California Indian Legal Services doing fishing rights, Indian religious freedom work and adjunct teaching at Humboldt State University. She returned to Montana and the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in 1984 as part of a team of Cheyenne leaders that helped form Native Action. In spite of the colonial-induced legacy of immense poverty and continued high rates of unemployment, alcoholism, drug abuse, suicide, violence, school drop outs, apathy and a sense of powerless, Small has championed her people’s rights to education, health and prosperity on the reservation in the face of these challenges. Small’s students, Native and non-native, learn about mining in a historical and present context, as she teaches how Native environmentalists are always working to ward off reservations becoming national sacrifice areas.
A representative of the Northern Plains Resource Council, a non-native rancher and farmer advocacy group, said, “That there are not more mines in Montana is in part due to Gail’s work. That is no small feat."