Cheyenne River Lakota Nation
Institute of American Indian Arts
“Alli always has it in her heart to do everything on her own. She is bound and determined to succeed. She is a steam engine.” – Shelley Moran Alkire, Alli’s mother
Alli was elected president of the AIHEC Student Congress at this year’s student meeting hosted by Oglala Lakota College in Rapid City, South Dakota. She previously held the position of vice president and decided to run for the top post once the 2011 term finished.
Alli is in her third year at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Indigenous liberal studies (ILS) and a certificate in business and entrepreneurship. She chose to attend IAIA because they offered courses infused with indigenous perspectives. Cultural education was an important aspect in Alli’s search for a college. “That’s how I was able to adapt in Santa Fe, New Mexico coming from Eagle Butte, South Dakota. It is a very small town. Keeping my Lakota cultural values close to me is what helped me stay on the right road; the red road, the sacred road. It is hard to walk that road,” she says.
At IAIA, Alli says, “Our teachers really care about us. We have such a close community that I don’t think I would have ever experienced [it] if I were to go to Dartmouth or the University of South Dakota. I’m glad I made the choice to go to IAIA. It’s been very beneficial for me and has helped me grow as an individual and put me on the path towards being what I want to be, a tribal lawyer.”
IAIA strengthened the Indigenous liberal studies program and developed a new business certificate with support from the Woksape Oyate: Wisdom of the People grant, administered by the American Indian College Fund. The grant aimed to build intellectual capital at 32 tribal colleges and universities (TCU) through investing in academic programs, professional development, and recruitment and retention.
IAIA’s business and entrepreneurship certificate gives Native artists formal marketing and business knowledge, which many highly skilled artists might not have had the opportunity to develop. Alli is a strong advocate for Native American entrepreneurship, especially among young people. She feels it is important to be business literate not only for individual gain, but as a means to help families and communities.
Before college, Alli saved enough to be financially set for two years of schooling. The scholarships she received from the American Indian College Fund rescued her after those two years were up. “I had a tuition bill that was outrageous and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to continue my education. It made me feel totally rejuvenated after I received them; it gave me an even brighter and more positive outlook on what is to come for me,” she says.
Under IAIA’s Woksape Oyate project, Alli, along with other ILS students, participated in a digital story workshop. Their stories capture the increased knowledge of self and culture students gain from the ILS program. The college uses these stories as a marketing tool on their website. Alli focused her story on her decision to attend IAIA and the successes she has had since enrolling. “I wanted to make that video so I could show it to my family, the people of Cheyenne River, and to young scholars coming out of high school, to show that you can dream big and have goals, but you are going to have to put in the dedication and make the commitment to obtain them. I wanted to show that goals are attainable.”
Alli encourages Native American students to attend tribal colleges and universities. “I truly believe that our TCUs (Tribal Colleges and Universities) are incubators for future tribal leaders. We have some very strong, young Native American leaders that are sitting behind the classroom doors and I think it is awesome that we have colleges that cater to their needs and to them culturally. I think that TCUs revitalize people’s culture. They bring Indian country together at a level that is unattainable otherwise.”
After graduation, Alli plans to attend law and business school, establish her own law firm back home in South Dakota, and teach tribal governance to high school students. “My mother always promoted education and she always told me to be responsible, reliable, and dependable,” Alli says. She brings all of those qualities to the AIHEC Student Congress presidency as a rising young leader with endless determination to succeed.
Check out Alli’s digital story along with other stories from IAIA(Alli’s is #8): http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLBF1FA84C49C930F7
To learn more about the 32 TCU projects under the Woksape Oyate: Wisdom of the People grant, go here: http://www.collegefund.org/content/woksape_oyate