Hunkpapa Lakota, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
Haskell Indian Nations University
Kenora was the mother of two children, ages two and four, when she made the decision to move 500 miles away from her home in Minneapolis to enroll at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas. Kenora was always interested in both math and science, and chose to study business because “I wanted a career that would allow me to provide for my family. In addition, the business track at Haskell had more of a math component, which I always enjoyed,” she says.
Being a young mother and college student allowed Kenora to serve as a positive role model for her children. That was even more pronounced as a student at a tribal college, because “my kids were very fortunate to grow up in a community with a lot of Indian people working towards an educational goal as I explained the importance of going to college for a better life.” Kenora says it was a struggle and she had to be attentive to managing her schedule and her resources. Scholarships from the American Indian College Fund, including its Ford Motor Company Blue Oval Scholarships program, helped. “It was hard, but I managed,” she says.
But Kenora didn’t struggle alone. In the Native tradition, Kenora and other students with children helped each other to succeed. Because students with children didn’t live in the dorms, Kenora worked with other off-campus students in informal study groups. They also supported each other by taking turns watching each other’s children, forming lifelong friendships in the process. Kenora says she still returns a few times a year to visit her old friends.
After graduating from Haskell with her four-year degree in business administration, Kenora went on to pursue a master’s degree. “I was always told how exceptional and smart I was, and was advised to get an advanced degree because in today’s job market you almost need that to be competitive,” Kenora says. She earned her MBA from the University of Kansas in Lawrence in the spring of 2010.
Kenora was the first Haskell graduate to attend the University of Kansas MBA program. “It was a scary process getting in,” she admits. “When I first entered, I felt all alone. Coming from a tribal college where she knew almost everyone to knowing almost no one was very intimidating at first. “I was a Native woman, older, and it is a very white male-dominated program. Their [the other students’] mindset was very different than mine. They were very capitalistic people. My ideals are more community-focused,” she says. I hope that my accomplishments will inspire others to pursue their goals of higher education. I want to be able to make a difference, and to be recognized as a leader amongst my people.” Kenora says.
Kenora now works as a Financial Analyst for the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) back at home in Minnesota, where she grew up. “I grew up in the Twin Cities and have always been an off-reservation Indian.” She had experience working with the tribe before college as a blackjack dealer and cage cashier at the casino.
Today Kenora is focused on gaining experience in her field. She enjoys working for the SMSC and likes the opportunities she has to work with other tribes as well through their Tribal Grants and Loan program. “I think having the perspective that I have as a Native person allows me to be really good at my job. I try to speak to the people in a good way and I always try to be an advocate for the people,” she says. “Although it is the generosity of SMSC and not actually my doing, I feel like I am able to contribute toward making difference in the lives of Indian people through my work.”