PULLMAN, Wash. — Allan Smith always enjoyed learning from the Northwest
Native American tribes he studied as a professor of anthropology at
Washington State University.
Now, after his death, he has made sure that members of those tribes will have
the chance to learn, too, with the establishment of the Plateau Native American
Educational Trust. The trust provides income for scholarships to WSU’s
College of Liberal Arts, the Intercollegiate Center for Nursing Education/WSU
College of Nursing in Spokane, and Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston,
Smith had a tremendous amount of respect for and gratitude to the Native
American tribes he studied, said Mary Jane Kreager, a longtime friend at WSU.
“This scholarship is Dr. Smith’s expression of gratitude to Native Americans
for allowing him to research their culture,” she said. “It was his desire that their
heritage be preserved for future generations of Native Americans.”
At WSU, the endowment will initially provide about $40,000 in scholarships
each year for liberal arts and nursing students. The gift effectively triples the
amount of money in the College of Nursing scholarship endowment.
Furthermore, the scholarship money has few restrictions on it. Students who
are part-time may be eligible for aid, and scholarship money can be provided
for things like travel or childcare.
The money may help address problems in health care for Native American
tribes in Eastern Washington, said Dorothy Detlor, dean of the ICNE/WSU
College of Nursing. With a tremendous shortage of Native American nurses
nationwide, cultural sensitivity, a key piece in adequately providing quality
care, is often missing.
“Our present Native American recruitment and retention program will be
greatly enhanced because of Dr. Smith’s thoughtfulness and recognition of
this need,” she said.
Beneficiaries of the trust also anticipate that the gift will go a long way toward
increasing and promoting diversity on campus.
“The College of Liberal Arts prides itself in the promotion of diversity not only
as a matter of educational curriculum, but as a vital experiential element of
community and collaboration,” said Dean Barbara Couture. “Dr. Smith’s gift
gives us the opportunity to address the relevance of this important issue well
beyond the classroom.”
Smith was a cultural anthropologist and linguist with particular expertise in the
Native American tribes of the Northwest. Soft-spoken and generous, he didn’t
concern himself with material goods. A lifelong learner, he enjoyed his
extensive library. His broad range of interests included playing the piano and
collecting stamps, says Kreager.
He was also known as being hard-working, remembers Don Bushaw, who
retired as WSU vice provost for instruction in 1993. Smith would do tasks like
typing his own letters that most people would delegate. He greatly admired the
simplicity of the tribes he studied.
“He respected them,” said Kreager. “They had a very simple way of life, and
that’s the way he was, too.”
Born in Norwood, Pa., he graduated magna cum laude from Yale with a
bachelor’s degree in sociology. He continued his graduate work there in the
late 1930’s, doing a comprehensive study of the tribal territory and an
ethnographic survey of traditional culture of the Kalispel Indian tribe of
northeastern Washington. He was the first to write down the Kalispel
language. Throughout his career, he continued his research of the
He served in Naval Intelligence during WWII and received a Purple Heart.
Smith began teaching at WSU in 1947, and in 1965 became chairman of the
newly formed Department of Anthropology. He was named academic vice
president in 1969, and retired from WSU in 1978. After retiring, he wrote a book
and several articles. He died last September at the age of 86.
Smith’s wife, Ann Gertrude Smith, known as Trude, was also intimately
involved in his work. A registered nurse, she authored and co-authored
numerous articles with him. She died in 1977. The nursing scholarships are
named for her.
Although he accumulated significant wealth during his lifetime, those who
knew Smith said it is not surprising that he would share it.
“He found all his wealth in his field notes,” said Sue Cook of First Security
Bank, trustee for his estate.