Leaving Home to Fulfill a Destiny

Iva, presenting the results from the Blackfeet Community College during the convening of tribal colleges participating in the Woksape Oyate, Wisdom of the People grant last year in Denver, Colo.

I went to work for the Blackfeet Tribe fresh out of high school.  I planned to work for just a year, and then go to college. That year turned into 22 years.  I went to college for the first time in my life just short of my 44th birthday. Had it not been for the Blackfeet Community College, I might not have ever gone to college. True, I had to start commuting 50 miles round trip again, but the upside was that my husband agreed to join me. He hadn’t ever gone to college either.

I learned a great deal by attending my tribal college, and it wasn’t just about the history and the language – both incredibly important to me. I started to learn more about myself. I graduated in 2011 with two associate’s degrees: one in Blackfeet studies, and one in Blackfeet language. Much to my surprise, I was the class salutatorian. I passed my exam for the Montana Class Seven Special License, which gave me the opportunity to assistant-teach the Blackfeet language in public schools if I choose to do so. I really want to do that, and at first that was my ultimate goal. However, the wonderful people at the college’s Academic Enrichment Services Department did their job perfectly and encouraged me to continue with my higher education.

I got geared up to transfer to the University of Montana after graduation, but my youngest daughter was expecting her first baby that August, so I delayed my transfer for a year. But, my educational experience didn’t stop during that year off. I was recruited by the co-coordinators of the LEAP Grant, Wisdom of the People Initiative at Blackfeet Community College as an intern for one year. My main job duties were mostly clerical, but the mentorship furthered my learning experiences. I learned more about Blackfeet history and discovered more and more about the truth of Native American history. On top of that, I was selected by a faculty member to be his research assistant under the Mellon Fellowship Grant. I enjoyed more learning, more mentorship, more guidance, and more self-discovery.

In retrospect, I feel like I was really destined to go to college later in life. I truly believe that had I gone immediately after high school I might not have had the rewarding experience that I did at BCC. I might not have even gone to my tribal college. By attending Blackfeet Community College, I received a great education that was very much in contrast to the non-Native public school I graduated from. I felt an incredible sense of community and kinship in my time at the tribal college, and I became familiar with the tribal college movement.  It so inspiring to learn about how much those who made the “movement” happen had sacrificed for Indian people to have a chance at a college education.

I am now a student at the University of Montana in Missoula. My major is Native American studies, with a minor in sociology. It was difficult to leave my home where I have lived most of my life and move to the city. It was also difficult to leave my family and extended family, but I couldn’t fight destiny. I am enjoying my new beginnings here as I bump into many Blackfeet and other Native students doing the same as I am – empowering ourselves, our children, and our people, and continuing to break down the stereotypes about Indian people. And living away from home for the first time, I have noticed the solidarity and friendliness amongst the people of color and Native communities as we attempt to do so.

Like I said earlier, at this point in my life the stars have really aligned for me, and I am truly happy. Aside from when I became a mother, I’m probably happier than I’ve ever been in my life. That might not have ever happened had it not been for the tribal college movement, Blackfeet Community College, and of course, the American Indian College Fund and their donors.

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