Recycling Lives – students to believe in

Aug 15th, 2005 | By | Category: 17-1: Telling Our Stories, Editor's Essay
By Marjane Ambler

TIME AND LIGHT (40" x 48", acrylic on canvas). Peterson Yazzie says, "My paintings are expressions of who I am. I use traditional aspects of my culture to communicate in a contemporary society."

The reception room was packed when the American Indian College Fund and the American Indian Higher Education Consortium honored the Students of the Year in April. However, we wished that thousands more people could have listened as each student came to the podium to testify about how education had transformed their lives.

“Thanks for believing in us; not a lot of people do,” said Deleana Otherbull (Crow), a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA, Santa Fe, NM).

Each year, we look forward to these receptions. Each tribal college has chosen an Indian student who has not only maintained a high grade-point average but also has served the community. Students are awarded $1,000 scholarships from the Castle Rock Foundation.

For the staff at the Tribal College Journal, we never get enough contact with tribal college students. They are our reason for being. We meet students when we visit their campuses, interview them on the phone for articles, and see them compete at the college bowls during the annual AIHEC Conferences. But no event is guaranteed to elicit as many tears as the annual Student of the Year reception.

One student brought her mother along. “This [award] is something we never thought could happen. I was a drug addict and an abused wife, but my mother never gave up on me. I want to tell the other students: Whatever happened in the past can stay in the past.”

Another survivor of domestic violence said her tribal college experience inspired her to study law. Several students described how they had turned “tragedy into triumph” and how their tribal college fulfilled their spiritual needs, as well as their emotional and intellectual needs.

Kendell Graywater (Spirit Lake Sioux) of Cankdeska Cikana Community College (Fort Totten, ND) says her children motivated her to go into nursing. “I just want to take care of my family and be an inspiration to other students with families,” said Graywater.

The age span of the honorees reflects the diversity of tribal college students. Kendell Graywater is 19, and Sarah Yazzie (Navajo) was 50 and a grandmother when she enrolled at Crownpoint Institute of Technology (Crownpoint, NM) and decided she wanted to be a law advocate.

Although the vast majority of tribal college students are women, 14 of the 34 students honored were men. At the reception Frankie Kipp (Blackfeet) described the boxing club that he and his tribe created as a youth mecca to help stop suicide among Blackfeet youth. “Your scholarship will help not only me but them, too,” he said. His description inspired TCJ to profile him in this issue.

Kipp spoke for a lot of older tribal college students when he described what it was like to start college at Blackfeet Community College (Browning, MT) at the age of 40. This tall, muscular, former boxer said, “I saw the young minds there, and I was scared.”

Students like Kipp are themselves becoming agents of change, multiplying the impact of the tribal colleges. Tanya Parker grew up in California, and when she enrolled in Sinte Gleska University in Rosebud, SD, her goal was to learn how to bale hay and be a better farmer and rancher. However, her cultural resource management classes awakened new passions. Her paper on the Blue Water Massacre will soon be published in American Indian Quarterly.

Now Parker (Miwok) plans to earn a Ph.D. and a law degree so that she can be an anthropology professor and a “free lawyer.” “I see people getting the run around because they have no power,” she says.

While only Indian students were eligible for the Student of the Year award, thousands of non-Indian students also attend tribal colleges. In this issue, the 11th annual TCJ Student Edition features the writing of Mary Ellen Ryall, a 59-year-old who recently graduated from Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College (Hayward, WI). She overcame four “dream killers” to attend and graduate from LCO: fear, doubt, worry, and guilt.

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