Fort Berthold Graduates First Teachers

Nov 15th, 1999 | By | Category: 11-2: Teacher Education, Tribal College News
By Katasha Belvin

Allen Demaray, Mariel Baker-Fox, Kelly Bradfield, and Martha Bird Bear would not have become teachers without the program. Photo by Ken Blackbird

“Modern day warriors” is what Fort Berthold Community College’s commencement speaker called this year’s graduates last spring in New Town, N.D. “You are truly bi-cultural and have learned to walk in two worlds. Now you must lead your people there,” said Dr. Wayne Stein, who directs the Center for Native American Students at Montana State University. These “warriors” collectively hold 61 new degrees and certificates.

Fifteen of them received bachelor’s degrees in elementary education. They will serve as “wisdom keepers” by passing their experiences and education on to a new generation as classroom teachers. The teaching degrees resulted from a collaborative effort of the University of North Dakota (UND) and Fort Berthold Community College, with some funding from a Philip Morris grant obtained through the American Indian College Fund.

Fearing funding might run out, courses were intensified and students worked under enormous pressure. Unlike most teacher training programs, Fort Berthold’s students took full course loads while conducting their student teaching, in addition to raising families and caring for aging elders. “We’d get together for evening classes and have a big pot-luck that usually turned into a feast. But it was great and added to the sense of community. Who has time to cook when you have so many other things going on?” one graduate said.

Mariel Baker-Fox, who graduated Cum Laude, said she never would have earned a degree if it weren’t for this program. “I was working on a secondary education degree at North Dakota State University when I found out I had cancer. I had to come home, and I never thought my dream would come true. But I wanted to teach, and I was determined to finish. Now I have a greater appreciation for life that I can pass onto my students,” she said.

Kelly Bradfield had to leave her studies at UND to take care of her grandmother, an obligation that she said many non-Natives don’t understand. But that’s one of the reasons she wants to teach, “As an Indian teacher, I can see some of the obstacles that Indian children face.” Most of the graduates see formal education as a way for their communities to rise above current hardships. “In today’s society you have to have a piece of paper stating that you know something,” Ruth Short Bull, Cum Laude elementary education graduate, said.

Students thanked Dr. Clarice Baker-Big Back for her 24-hour support. Mary Harris, the academic dean from UND, said without someone like Baker-Big Back who knew the reservation, the students, and the potential, this program would never have been possible. Baker-Big Back is from Fort Berthold and a faculty member at UND. The university is loaning her to Fort Berthold Community College for the teacher-training program.

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