Comcast Cares Day at the Denver Indian Center

On Saturday morning in Denver, the city got a respite from a month of freezing temperatures and several feet of snow. The weather worked out perfectly for volunteers from the American Indian College Fund, who teamed up with about 100 volunteers to participate in the Comcast Cares Day at the Denver Indian Center, Inc.

Volunteers helped with improvements including planting gardens, installing a new playground, converting the children’s bathrooms to adult bathrooms, painting, cleaning, shredding documents, priming an exterior wall for a mural project, and hanging artwork donated from the Denver Art Museum in the gym and a flat screen TV in the lobby.

Many of these improvements were desperately needed for the facility, a former elementary school that now serves as the center for Native community programs to fulfill the Denver Indian Center’s mission “to empower our youth, families and community through self-determination, cultural identity and education.”

It is was truly a fulfilling day to know that we were making a difference by giving some time to help improve a place where many Denver natives come for services and programs. The day was made possible by the support of Comcast, the local employees of Comcast, Rotary International (who provided a component of the playground), and the community members and service organizations that donated their time to spruce up a place some never knew existed.

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Updates from the Wakanyeja Early Childhood Education Initiative

The ECED Special Topics course attended the Native American Child and Family Conference on Wed. March 20th at the Hotel Albuquerque.  Students attended conference sessions of their choice and also helped facilitate a workshop from 3:00-5pm.  Over 50 people attended the session!  Conference attendees included Indian Head Start staff and administration from the southwest.  SIPI’s workshop focused on sharing information regarding how SIPI works to engage Head Start families in developing a cultural curriculum.  Audience members were engaged in the process and had many questions regarding the Wakanyeja “Sacred Little Ones” project.  Following the presentation, Dr. Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz- Wakanyeja “Sacred Little Ones” program officer from the American Indian College Fund, engaged the group in a debriefing session where students reflected on the experience.

Students who participated include: Shelby Holt, Brandon Barney, Christine Lucero, Kim Dominic Ray, Sasha Brown, Michele Morgan, Jody Lucero, and Sandra Sandoval (not pictured)

A big thank you to everyone who supported our efforts to include students in meaningful learning experiences that allow them to contribute to the greater community.  Many tribal Head Start teachers and administrators attended the session.  Students are helping to solidify SIPI’s reputation as a community college that engages students in meaningful experiences.  Look for more to come from our future Indian educators!

by Danielle Lansing, Ed. D
Early Childhood Instructor/Coordinator
Wakanyeja “Sacred Little Ones” Project Director


Program Leads present their research at Society for Applied Anthropology

The Wakanyeja ECE Initiative tribal college grantees, Northwest Indian College, College of Menominee Nation, Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute and Ilisagvik College, presented their respective research on strengthening early childhood education in Native communities at the Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA) in Denver on March 23, 2013.  Each funded tribal college developed a research poster to highlight model programming implementation, parent empowerment, language and culture educational opportunities, and development of high quality instruction in early learning programs serving Native children and families.  Presenting at national scholarly conferences and on research-based practices is new for these project directors, and they received ample engagement of their ideas from a number of participants representing scholarship in the fields of education and anthropology.  Feedback from participants included increased praise of the American Indian College Fund’s activities in supporting research-based practices and accolades about the new knowledge emerging from Northwest Indian College, College of Menominee Nation, Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute and Ilisagvik College.

Funders Meet Little Big Horn College President and Student

by Rachel Piontak

On Friday, the Fund’s staff was given a rare treat: the opportunity to hear from both a TCU president and TCU student in one day. The presentation highlighted their challenges, successes, and overall vision for their tribe’s future. Sharing these words were President of Little Big Horn College, Dr. David Yarlott, and a first-year business student, Riley Singer.

Dr. Yarlott opened the presentation by introducing himself in his tribal language of Crow, one of the many Native languages in danger of extinction. He briefly shared his own history of growing up on the reservation and his early struggles with education until he realized its full value and went on to complete a doctoral degree in education. It was during this time that Little Big Horn College (LBHC) invited him back to teach business courses in 1998.

LBHC was established on the Crow reservation in Montana in 1980 with just 13 students. Now, less than 25 years later, the school has been the educational home for as many as 417 students each year as they pursue one of the many options of accredited associate’s degrees available. What began as a mad dash to sit beneath one of the two lights in an old gymnasium for class has now developed into an expansive campus full of intricate designs and cultural symbolism.

According to Dr. Yarlott, culture was a heavily weighted factor in their campus architecture, layout, and overall design. For example, the campus is laid out in a semi-circle pattern, reflective of the early Crow encampments. The home of the leader represented wisdom, knowledge, and leadership and would be situated at the far Western end of the camp so they will be first to see the sunrise. Likewise, at LBHC, the statutes of wisdom, knowledge, and leadership are represented by the archives, library, and administration buildings located at the far Western end of the campus.

In this way, LBHC’s campus is able to both maintain its history as well as tell its story to everyone who passes through.

Part of the school’s vision, as shared by Dr. Yarlott, calls LBHC students, staff, and faculty to “make our own future, not wait for it to come to us.” This is evident in the school’s progressive initiatives to encourage continuing education, environmental sustainability, and expanding program offerings.

Dr. Yarlott continued to make connections between education and Crow culture throughout the presentation. It was summed up perfectly by his words that “mountains are our heart, the river is our blood, and the college is our mind.”

When a devastating flood hit the Crow reservation in May 2011, LBHC was at the forefront of organizing relief and aid efforts. This is just one way that tribal colleges and universities have served as not only an educational hotspot, but also a gathering place for local communities to gain support.

The second speaker, Riley Singer, “Bull in the Clouds,” also spoke about his experiences on the reservation and as a student at LBHC. As a Fund scholarship recipient, Riley demonstrated the importance of determination and traditional values in his educational career.

Raised by his grandparents on their cattle ranch in Lodge Grass, Riley learned the value of hard work and respect at a young age. Throughout his informative slideshow, we learned of the traditional upbringing and cultural practices that defined his youth. One of the most striking features, however, was the emphasis he gave to the value of education. This was demonstrated very strongly through his own life choices and through the lives of his ancestors.

Riley is currently pursuing an associate’s degree in business administration with an emphasis on small business management and plans to complete his bachelor’s through Rocky Mountain College afterwards. This education, he believes, will best prepare him to take over his family’s cattle ranching business.

Both Dr. Yarlott and Riley brought inspiration and valuable information through their presentations. It was inspiring to hear recounts of their educational journey while upholding cultural traditions and an incredible reminder as to why the Fund exists to support this journey.



Community-Oriented, Inspirational, Cutting-Edge Education

A Navajo Technical College (NTC) nursing student demonstrates in the lab during a tour for the American Indian College Fund staff. NTC graduated their first class of nurses this past year.

by Megan Thoms

What do you think of when you think of a community college?  I simply think of a two-year institution that students attend before transferring to a four-year institution. That was before I visited Navajo Technical College (NTC), a tribal community college that just recently became a four-year institution.

Navajo Technical College is located on the Navajo reservation in Crownpoint, in northwest New Mexico, a town with a population of about 2000 people.  The closest ‘city,’ Gallup, is about an hour away and has a population of about 21,000 people.

Community oriented, inspirational, and cutting edge are just a few of the words I would use to describe Navajo Technical College.


photo by Megan Thoms



Community Oriented.  It is immediately noticeable when stepping onto campus that NTC is not only a part of the Navajo community, but embraces the community.  The community is part of their history.  The Navajo Nation chartered the college in 1979.  NTC exists to serve their community, the Navajo Nation.

Like most community colleges, NTC provides practical degrees so that their students can find jobs and succeed after graduation.  However, unlike most community colleges, NTC provides housing for families and single students, transportation, and even a daycare center.  Due to the fact that many students commute up to 100 miles each day to get to NTC, NTC provides a van for students to get to and from campus, from as far as Farmington (82 miles away) and Pueblo Pintado (43 miles away).

If anything demonstrates commitment to community it’s the Internet to the Hogan project.  Due to its rural location, NTC immediately realized that a fast internet connection is absolutely necessary in order to advance their programs and their students, essentially in order to run a successful college.  The Internet to the Hogan project creates a hub at NTC from which high-speed internet access will be extended to chapter houses and other sites in the Navajo Nation and surrounding areas.  NTC realized that getting access to high-speed internet is not only necessary for the college, but it’s necessary for the Navajo Nation as well.  As a result of the project, NTC is able to provide an online learning environment for its students and internet access to Crownpoint and Whitehorse Lake chapter houses.  As NTC continues to gain access to cell towers, the connectivity project is expected to grow.

If you have any other doubts about NTC’s commitment to their community, their vision makes it clear.  “The vision of Navajo Technical College is to educate Navajo individuals; to utilize state-of-the art technology; and to enhance desirable character traits of integrity, self-discipline, loyalty and respect, which give the Navajo people hope, courage, and the resiliency essential to their survival as a people, using the strengths inherent in the Navajo cultural values and traditions.” The school wants its students to be complete people, intellectually, personally, and culturally.  They want to ‘educate the mind and spirit’ of their students.  They care about their students, because that is their community.  It’s one and the same.

Inspirational.  NTC is inspirational.  Their student enrollment is inspirational.  Their retention rate is inspirational.  The fall 2012 enrollment was 1777 students, which is up 53% from last year.  Their retention rate is 81%.  Compare that to the national average retention rate of 51% for all colleges and universities in the U.S.  These are students who are not well off, and who are travelling up to 100 miles each way to get to campus.  It’s clear that these students want an education, not only for themselves but for their community as well.  They understand that the only way to improve their situation is to get an education.

The staff is inspirational.  They are enthusiastic about the subjects they teach, and they strive to provide hands-on learning experiences for their students.  They know that is the best way to learn, and they know that having hands-on experience with advanced equipment are skills they’ll need in a job.  In the IT department, one of the courses created their super computer cluster that was located in their classroom.  They acquired the equipment, put it together, and used the cluster for advanced data analysis.  These are skills necessary to manage any computer cluster, and the students are ready.

NTC incorporates the Diné philosophy into everything they do. The college is committed to a high quality, student-oriented, hands-on-learning environment based on the Diné cultural principles: Nitsáhákees, Nahátá, Īína, Siihasin.  The college is not ignoring their roots or their culture.  Every instructor is encouraged to incorporate these principles into their courses.  There are posters everywhere explaining the principles (see photo).  Essentially, every person has a physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional component that needs to be cared for.  This is inspirational.

Cutting Edge.  NTC is looking to the future, always.  In the past year, the Higher Learning Commission approved two new bachelor’s degree programs for NTC: a bachelor of science degree in industrial engineering and a bachelor of arts degree in Diné culture, language, and leadership.  The college is planning to add more advanced degrees, including a master’s degree in Diné culture, language, and leadership.

NTC makes sure that it has the latest technology in their courses.  The engineering, math, and technology department has a 3D printer and laser scanning equipment.  The laser scanning equipment was recently used to scan a building for NASA to determine if it was big enough for a piece of developmental rocket hardware.  The laser scanning equipment was also used to scan a lava tube in Louisiana to determine its exact dimensions.  These are exciting, cutting edge opportunities for NTC students.  NTC’s location, size, or any other factor does not prevent them from acquiring cutting edge technology for their courses and making sure their students get that hands-on experience.

NTC is Community Oriented, Inspirational, Cutting Edge, and so much more!  All mainstream community colleges could strive to be a little more like NTC.

By American Indian College Fund staff member Megan Thoms

Staff Reflects on First Experience at Tribal Colleges

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI) and Navajo Technical College (NTC).  As a recent addition to the American Indian College Fund (the Fund) staff, the TCU movement is new to me, and I am continuously learning about its history and future.  However, until I visited these two schools, my education was through articles and other people’s stories I was excited to see the schools in person.

My excitement was matched by the fervor with which staff and students shared their stories and the comprehensive introduction we received to both schools’ programs and services.  At NTC, our tour took us into several classrooms, all of which had something to teach me about innovation in education and learning.  In the Information Technology department, students are getting hands-on experience using the latest technology and then applying it in real-world situations through the school’s partnership with NASA.  We also visited an environmental science class where both the professor and several students received scholarships from the Fund.  The students were engaged in a study session identifying the scientific and common names of plants as well as their medicinal uses based on Navajo tradition.  Later on, we met a girl who received a Fund scholarship during her years at NTC and returned to work in the on-campus veterinary office after graduation.  Not only was she sharing her technical knowledge with current students, but she was also making sure each and every one applied for our scholarships.  What commitment to her community and education!

On day two, we visited SIPI. The school likewise “wowed” me with their forward-thinking programs. Learning about one program, the Wakanyeja Sacred Little Ones grant, which is sponsored by the Kellogg Foundation and administered by the Fund, was the most powerful moment of my trip. Through the Wakanyeja program grant, SIPI was able to introduce an innovative research methodology into their early childhood education (ECE) curriculum, build a new on-campus childcare center in conjunction with a local Head Start program, and present exciting new research about adapting ECE to cultural needs. The program connects all aspects of ECE: from the staff and students conducting research to the early childhood center staff and parents’ participation in the research to assessment and development of new curriculum. It was in the second part of this circle of innovation that I saw the biggest impact of my work. We sat with a parent who explained her experience so far, equal parts sharing how the research is conducted and her role in that, and how it has personally impacted her family. At one point, she teared up, explaining that after joining the program her daughter has learned to introduce herself according to Navajo tradition, which is to state one’s lineage through the names of one’s clan. She went on to tell us how much her daughter was learning about her own culture and others’ cultures and in turn, how much she was learning from her daughter. That moment and the rest of the trip showed how the TCUs and their students are working with us to innovate, share their knowledge, and commit themselves to their communities.



Idle No More Brings Native Voices, Tribal Education to the Forefront

by Dr. Cheryl Crazy Bull

Round Dance gathering at the Colorado State Capitol on Jan. 11, 2013.

A group gathers for a round dance at the Colorado State Capitol on a cold Friday evening on Jan. 11, 2013.

Like many Natives and our allies across our Grandmother Earth, Unci Maka, I have joined the Idle No More movement, attending round dance gatherings, praying for Chief Theresa Spence and her supporters, sharing the stories I hear and read and perusing news and opinion pieces. Like many indigenous people, I am acutely aware that our voices in the mainstream of American, Canadian and Central and South American societies are often unheard, and that we appear silent when in fact our voices are singing out with stories of our lives. Defining this movement is our responsibility. Each of us should learn about this movement and find our own place in it. We can add our voices to songs of our relatives and allies across the earth.

The new calendar year can be a time of renewal and re-commitment for many – but for most Native people, our annual calendar is seasonal or ceremonial, related to the changes of our Grandmother Earth or the rituals of our people. For me the year goes from summer to summer, from the time of sun dances to the next sun dances. I know that measuring time in this manner comes from my identity. We may adopt the calendar year and New Year celebrations, but we find our renewal as tribal people in the seasons and rituals of our people.

As the Idle No More movement has gained strength, like many, I have pondered its meaning.  For me, it is our voices, singing out from the place inside of us where our identities as “the people” live, it is the rhythm of our shared heartbeat and the movements of our bodies as we dance a shared dance – a social dance of hope and friendship and affirmation, in a circle, around the drums and the voices that are singing out who we are.

Each tribal people have a unique identity given us by our Creator and our understanding of Creation.  Our identity emerges out of our knowledge of how we came to be as a people. Our oral knowledge is intact and the stories of our creation remain essentially untainted by western influences. Often we are viewed by mainstream America in the context of what educators call the three F’s – food, fun, and fashion. We are the celebration of Thanksgiving, the Indians in popular movies, feathered headdresses, geometric designed pottery, and lilting flute music. A deeper understanding of who we are, philosophically, spiritually, and socially is elusive to most of mainstream America. I often think this elusiveness is exacerbated by the fact that it would require a painful acknowledgement that we, as the First Peoples of this hemisphere, are really human beings subjected to devastating military and political policies of the very governments that still lead our countries.

Tribal people have their own teachings about their Creation, their family relationships, and how they came to be on this earth. Native people have teachings about plants and animals, about gathering in celebration, and about the meaning of each item of decoration or clothing that they wear at their ceremonies.

Our stories reflect the richness of our heritages which are such an important part of today’s democracy.  Although the experiences of Native people with the arrival of Europeans on our shores are filled with tragedy, we have not lost our identity or cultural ways. Idle No More is the story of our shared identity.  Like all social movements, it has roots in history and connections with the social actions of other movements, including the Occupy movement and environmental actions.

Tribally controlled education is a vital part of the foundation of tribal knowledge that underpins the Idle No More movement. In today’s society the education of our people is essential to our prosperity, our identity, and our activism. The tribally controlled education movement emerged during the last modern great wave of social activism among our people–the American Indian Movement in the late 1960s.  In the last 45 years, tribal educators and our schools and colleges have been at the forefront of the restoration and preservation of our identities. Our work ensures that our ancestors and descendants will recognize us.

Now is the time to affirm that we are entitled to an education that honors our identity, our knowledge of Creation, and our relationships. We are entitled to the best of public education – a tribally controlled education – that culls content from our knowledge with teaching methodologies and assessment that uphold our ways of learning.

As our social activism grows, look to our Native educators and encourage them to bring Idle No More into their classrooms. It is a modern-day teachable moment in the context of our cultural ways and the histories of our people. It is a moment that can last a lifetime. It is the work of a lifetime that will be felt for seven generations.

Dr. Cheryl Crazy Bull is President and CEO of the American Indian College Fund.


Video from a recent Idle No More round dance.

Protect the Circle of Life: Please Get a Flu Vaccine

Flu shot being givenThe flu season this year started early and is hitting the U.S. hard. American Indians and Alaska Natives, including college students, are at high risk for getting the flu and developing serious complications. The time is now for people to benefit from getting the vaccine. Anyone 6 months and older who has not gotten vaccinated yet this season should get vaccinated. At this time, some vaccine providers may have exhausted their vaccine supplies, while others may have remaining supplies of vaccine. People seeking vaccination may need to call more than one provider to locate vaccine. The flu vaccine locator at may also be helpful.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is raising awareness about the importance of flu vaccinations with a public health campaign called “Protect the Circle of Life.” Visit for additional information including a fact sheet, brochure, and flyer.

The Circle of Life is a powerful force. Keep the circle healthy and strong by getting vaccinated against the flu. Did you know Native people are at high risk for serious flu complications? It’s true. Pregnant women, young children, elders, and anyone with chronic health conditions like diabetes, asthma, and heart disease are especially vulnerable. Please get a yearly flu vaccine. Your flu vaccine protects me. My flu vaccine protects you. Together, let’s protect the circle of life. Learn more. Call 1-800-CDC-INFO.



Uqautchim Uglua at Iḷisaġvik College

Uqautchim Uglua student Matumiaq enjoys creative play in the whaling camp tent.

Uqautchim Uglua student Matumiaq enjoys creative play in the whaling camp tent.

Iḷisaġvik College’s Uqautchim Uglua, or ‘language nest’ program, celebrated important milestones in 2012. The school introduced an Iñupiaq Early Learning Associate of Arts degree to meet the college’s goal to increase the number of indigenous certified teachers on the North Slope. This degree offers a holistic approach designed to support Native students in their learning experiences, has a traditional Iñupiaq emphasis, and meets accreditation requirements.

A strong Iñupiaq studies component is incorporated into the degree with 12 required credit hours of Iñupiaq language, cultural and traditional arts. Students can choose from an education or business track. The degree will prepare students to open their own language nests, become educational paraprofessionals, or continue their education at a four-year institution to become a certified teacher. New education courses include Child Development, Introduction to Early Childhood Profession, Family and Community Partnerships, Teaching Children’s Health and Wellness, Language and Creative Expression, Practicum, and Small Business Planning for Child Care.

The first student cohort will be held during the spring 2013 semester as Uqautchim Uglua brings program students together during a brief residency at Iḷisaġvik College. Courses are offered via distance delivery to facilitate the participation of students living in the outlying villages, across Alaska, and the United States.


Uqautchim Uglua teacher Tuuqlak Diaz reads to the students in Iñupiaq.

Uqautchim Uglua teacher Tuuqlak Diaz reads to the students in Iñupiaq.

An Iñupiaq language immersion nest and teacher training center (lab school) also opened at Ilisagvik College in November, 2012. The language nest serves as a teacher training lab school and observation site for students in the Iḷisaġvik College’s Iñupiaq Early Learning Associate of Arts degree. Practicum and internship opportunities are conducted in an Iñupiaq immersion early learning setting for twelve students ranging from birth to three years of age.

Uqautchim Uglua Learning Center (lab school/language nest) models the delivery of the North Slope Borough School District’s Iñupiaq Learning Framework in a preschool setting. By extending this curriculum to pre-school students and stressing the strengths of traditional Iñupiaq parenting, the North Slope’s youngest children will develop the cognitive, interpersonal, and motor skills they need to enter school developmentally ready for academic success. The program is starting with three-year olds. Younger age groups will be added as the curriculum is developed.

Students’ parents participate in a Parent Empowerment Group and will interview Elders to capture traditional parenting information. The information gleaned will be compiled and shared with our partnering institutions and language nests. Traditional parenting information will also inform education courses. Our program is working with the North Slope Borough School District in establishing goals and objectives associated with this important project.

After seeing the Alaska Cultural Standards, Martha Stackhouse, Teachers for the Arctic Coordinator, created examples of the standards at the college level for instructors as they integrate the Inupiaq culture into their classrooms.

Progress has been made embedding the Iñupiaq culture and values into the Iñupiaq Early Learning AA program. The Culture-Based Curriculum Coordinator, Robert Suvlu, has been working to infuse culture across the curriculum and develop teaching techniques for culture-based instruction designed to support students enrolled in the Iñupiaq Early Learning AA program.

Iḷisaġvik College President Pearl Brower said, “Iḷisaġvik College is Alaska’s Only Tribal College. Part of our mission is to perpetuate our Iñupiaq culture, language, values, and traditions. The creation of the Iñupiaq Early Learning Degree and the start of the language nest movement on the North Slope falls directly into the mission of the college and need for our support to encourage these programs for the future of our region’s self-sustainability and local control. I am excited to embark on these new endeavors.”

An overarching goal is to increase the number of Iñupiat teachers on the North Slope through a bachelor of education degree articulated with a partner Indigenous teacher training program. The degree program is moving the college one step closer to an articulated agreement with a four-year institution to provide students with a seamless transition.

Uqautchim Uglua Interim Program Director Devin Bates said, “Uqautchim Uglua is one central embodiment of a serious, consolidated and sustained effort by the people, communities and entities of the North Slope to indigenize regional education systems, increase the number of state-certified Iñupiaq teachers on the North Slope, address issues pertaining to child care, and attack Native language and culture degradation concerns head on. It is a program that is infused and defined by the very same excitement and optimism its mission helps to bring to the North Slope community. Though it is a young program, we are already seeing markedly positive results, and while a great deal to be done lies ahead of us, we can clearly see that we have just the tools we need to continue moving forward. It is one of the great honors and privileges of my life to be a part of what we are doing here.”

The project is supported by a grant from the American Indian College Fund’s Wakanjea Sacred Little Ones project funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Alaska Native Education Program (State of Alaska), the North Slope Borough’s Mayor Office, and Ilisagvik College.


Croff: Look Up, Smile

When many American Indian students study at mainstream institutions, they experience culture shock. For many, it is the first time away from a close-knit community. For others, it is their first experience away from the reservation. Transitioning to a life on a large campus can feel alienating and unwelcoming. Iva, a member of the Blackfeet nation who had lived in the reservation her whole life and a graduate of Blackfeet Community College in Montana, transferred to the University of Montana this fall to continue her studies and to earn her bachelor’s degree. In this blog, Iva shares her experiences there, and how she determined to overcome an environment that felt unwelcoming to her with her own brand of spunk and spirit.

It took me a while to determine a proper path in which to express an issue that would make me look like a racist; when, in fact, I’m not.  So, I thought, I will just let those who don’t already know my story get to know me a little before I share my thoughts about a rather sensitive issue.

I have just completed my first semester as a student at the University of Montana. I love school, even if it gets stressful and lonely at times. I love learning and sharing what I have learned. The most difficult thing for me has been leaving my home. I’m a mom and grandmother, and before I started college five years ago, I was a working woman. My husband and I were comfortable, and we made a home out in the country 16 years ago. It was hard to leave that behind and move to the city into an apartment which I affectionately call the “compartment.” I also struggle with my loneliness for my adopted nephew who is a resident in a long-term care facility back home. Visiting him two or three times a week every week, doing his laundry, reading to him, filing his finger nails, cutting his hair, and giving him a shave every now and then has been a big part of my routine for the past four years. After being in Missoula for a month, my nephew’s mom and my daughter called to let me know he had suffered a seizure and was being sent to the hospital in Great Falls. It was heart-wrenching enough leaving him and my routine behind, cold turkey, and when he landed in the hospital – that was the one moment I hated moving here.

Coming from the Blackfeet Reservation, a big family, and living in a very rural area all of my life could prompt me to paint a contemporary Rez-version of a Norman Rockwell picture. However, I struggle to draw stick people, so I will just say that in those types of surroundings it’s very easy to get acquainted with almost everyone in the community and the adjacent communities. It’s commonplace to walk by someone you don’t know and smile, nod, or say “hi” or “good morning.” That’s what this blog is about. When you’re in a tourist city like Vegas, New York, San Francisco, etc., it’s easy to approach a stranger and ask them to take a picture of you, and they oblige.  I don’t really consider myself a country bumpkin, but I must say that the campus at the University of Montana certainly made me feel that way.

I am a Native American Studies major, and my first day of classes started in my comfort zone – the Native American Center. Then, it was out into the cold campus where I discovered how unfriendly the majority of the students were. This is where the subject gets sticky, so I will just say that my mother is Blackfeet, my dad is white, and I have experienced poor treatment in both worlds. I found the lack of student-to-student cordialness on U of M campus rather unsettling. The majority of the Caucasian students will walk right by one another and everyone else they don’t know without even a glimpse at the other. I found most students of color to be quite different, and I took some time over the past few months to really observe that. My first thought was, “We Indians must have a sixth-sense to spot one another because I’m rather light-skinned, but we all manage to exchange a smile or nod.” Then, I noticed when I passed another person of color, he or she responded in a similar manner.

This really made me curious as to why the students of color were, without provocation, so much friendlier than the Caucasian students. I realize that the vast majority of the students at the University of Montana are freshmen, but surely that doesn’t give most them the loner complex.  I’m not sure why, after dodging skateboarders and bicyclists almost every day, but I thought, “I just have to put myself out there. If no one reciprocates, hopefully it won’t have any long-lasting effects on my psyche.”

I had been admiring several of the students’ maroon and white Nike athletic shoes. One day, I approached a young man in the University Center market and asked him where he got his shoes. He was quite a bit taller than me and looked down and responded, “Pffft!” The challenge was on and I told the rude young man, “No, seriously, those are pretty cool shoes. Where did you get them?” He replied in a snide manner, “Nowhere around here. I ordered them online.” Then he started to walk away, but I know he heard me say in a cheery voice, “Thanks! Have a nice day.”

I get compliments all the time from people I know and strangers alike about my earrings. I always touch an earring to recall which set I’m wearing, and respond with a “thank you,” and give a quick little credit to whoever gave them to me. This was my tactic to start engaging people around here. I started small – asking classmates in various classes how they did on the exam, complimenting different people on an article of clothing or jewelry, and even telling someone they had a cool tattoo. I love shoes, so when I see someone with cool shoes, no matter where I am, I have to tell them. This has been somewhat embarrassing for my kids. I got a few responses, and one young lady in my Sociology class of 100+ tells me hello almost every time we have class and when we pass one another around campus. Turns out, she’s from Great Falls, which is a major city smaller than Missoula, but where people from at least three Indian Tribes along the hi-line frequently visit for special medical care or shopping. I felt the victory with this young woman was small, but at least I had made some headway.

As the holidays began to approach, I thought for sure I would notice a cheerful change in people. Perhaps I was being overly optimistic because not much changed. I got better acquainted with my classmates in my small classes of 20 or less. A cowboy-looking kid started saying hello when we met at the door of the lecture hall, but the student-to-student exchange on the campus hadn’t really improved. I knew I had to step up my game. I just started telling people good morning even if they were just looking right past me. People with their heads down didn’t get the pleasure of my bubbly salutations, though. Still, not much of an improvement, other than the occasional frown that I believe was supposed to be a response.

During finals week, just when I was ready to throw in the towel, a young man in a wheel chair came up to me and said, “I just wanted to tell you thank you for always smiling and telling me ‘hi’ at the Social Science building and the dining hall.” It was all I could do not to jump up and down with excitement. Then I realized, it’s not about people making me happy and making my life easier here at the University; rather, it’s the reward of knowing that maybe, just maybe, I made someone’s day by making them feel less invisible.

To THINK INDIAN is not about me changing others; it’s about me continuing to smile in the face of adversity while maybe creating a better world for someone else.

Program supported to build and strengthen Iñupiaq language

Iḷisaġvik College President Pearl Brower was presented with a Proclamation of Support for the Uqautchim Uglua (language nest) Program by Alaska’s North Slope Bureau Mayor Charlotte Brower. It will provide an additional $153,000 in funding for the program, which is also a participant in the American Indian College Fund’s Sacred Little Ones program, funded by the Kellogg Foundation. 

An integral part of Uqautchim Uglua is Iḷisaġvik’s new Iñupiaq Early Learning Associate of Arts degree program, which will allow program participants to advance to earning bachelors’ and doctoral degrees in education, while the program also builds and strengthens the Iñupiaq language, an endangered language.

The Mayor gave the Proclamation on Kiavralvik, December 21, or Winter Solstice, the day that the North Slope begins to gain more daylight, symbolizing a new dawn. Arctic animal puppets, arctic furs, blocks with etching made by Kiita students, and strong visuals of Iñupiaq life graced the walls of the Center as the Mayor commended Iḷisaġvik College for the program and congratulated the Uqautchim Uglua program staff for their efforts.