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12 Tribes & 7 Reservations Represented In The Payne Family Native American Center (MT)

12 tribes & 7 reservations represented in the Payne Family Native American Center (MT)

As collective societies extended their territories, they would border on other cultural groups.  And when they interacted with other societies, they experienced new ideas and adapted them. This goes contrary to the notion of invention. Rather, change is a process of transformation. Transformation was tempered by the need to assure the community that new ideas were mindful of the past, cognizant of the present, and suitable for the future.

Ted Jojola, Indigenous Planning and Tribal Community Development. 1


Twelve (12) Montana tribes were represented in the Payne Family Native American Center on the University of Montana campus in Missoula, designed by Daniel Glenn (Crow). The process undertaken was unique in that the design family included Native American students, faculty, and staff that represented all 12 tribes. Together they decided on the “tribal commonalities and differences that could be brought into the final design” (Ibid, p.113).

The most interesting feature of this process was the cultural matrix. A matrix was created that “summarized key cultural aspects of each of the local tribes, including traditional structures, ceremonies, beadwork, cosmology, and regional climate/landscape” (Ibid, p.113). Moreover, a design process open to discussion encouraged collaboration and set the tone for the facility:

Tribal seals from all the states reservations and quotations from noted tribal members are etched into concrete panels. Flags from each of the tribes are mounted on the entranceway shade trellis, leading to the east-facing doorway. The Lodge Rotunda, or atrium space, is particularly powerful. Twelve pine columns, dredged up from the bottom of the Blackfoot River, one for each of the Montana Tribes – are used as primary supports (Ibid, p. 113).

The number twelve is again found on the floor’s periphery through either parfleche patterns or bandolier bag patterns. The main gathering space, intended for ceremony and dancing, is identified with a “wheeled pattern from a Blackfoot quillwork medallion” (Ibid, p. 114) and marks the sacred four directions. The designer chose the tipi lodge as inspiration, but chose not to replicate the form: “the designers chose to instead emulate cultural, structural and technological features of a tipi including: east facing entrance, wood structure, translucent skin, canted walls and open to the sky” (Ibid, p. 114).

Another intertribal design element is seen in the gardens. Home to  sacred and medicinal plants, the individual gardens are arranged in a circular shape, and represent each of the seven reservations in Montana. Rocks from the actual reservations have now become part of the site. In the center of the gardens is a storytelling area in the shape of a sweatlodge, complete with firepit.

Appreciated here is the effort undertaken to incorporate 12 cultural groups in one facility. No small task. One is reminded of the Native American Cultural Centre at Northern Arizona University (NACC) with 22 tribes and two years of design time. Nonetheless if time and budget permit, a very worthwhile endeavor.

Image credits: Images retrieved from:

1 Retrieved from:

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