School Supplies ~ Encouraging Native Youth to Seek College

When I graduated from UW-Superior I was presented with an Eagle Feather. Being presented with an Eagle Feather is the highest honor a Native American can receive. The father means more to me than the paper my degree is printed on.

It’s that time of year where stores line their shelves with school supplies, back packs, and dorm room decorating supplies. For me, it’s a sign that fall is fast approaching and I need to get my motivating butt in gear. Each fall I get to meet a new group of seniors/juniors and scare them into going to college. I scare them straight, scare them smart, but mostly I use my love to scare them into discovering apart of themselves.

Native Americans are still the most unrepresented racial group in higher education. Sadly the state of the reservation educational systems are far worse and have yet to slowly get better. Is it that we forgot that these are kids too or were we to quick to assimilate them into main stream off reservations schools. The state of reservation schools are slowly getting better as more tribes realize that the investment in education is a good one. More and more native based learning programs are being developed. Language, arts, and culture are taught right along side, math, reading, and science.

Yet with all of this change and the strong movement of the NIEA we are still not seeing the rise of Native students in higher education. This is where people like myself come in. Many of these students are the first in their families to set foot into the hallowed halls of a University. They come from less than nothing and are afraid that if they leave and don’t achieve everyone will see them as a failure.

I often tell my students that the only failure is the failure to not even dream of a college education. If they never dare to dream, they will never leave the boundaries that hold them in. Boundaries are meant to be crossed and once you cross you can always look back at what you once were. Some of the kids just need someone to whisper you can do it into their ear. Others need us to hold their hands through out the whole application process and be waiting quietly in the wings on campus visitation day. Either way we do whatever it takes to get these kids, accepted, moved in, and stand by them until their degree is in hand.

It takes alot of hands to motivate Native kids, long hours, tears, and strength to show them that they are worth it. Once they know they are worth it, their dreams soar, and they become more than they ever thought possible. Tears are what I cry when they call me and say “OMG AmanadaJean I got accepted to college! Thank you Thank you, for believing in me. Because of you I am going to make something of myself and come back and make my reservation a better place.” Those moments are the moments I live for. To see the sparkle in their eye as they hold that dorm room key in their hand. I look forward to their emails detailing of classes, new friends, and ninja antics.

Reservations are changing as their populations become educated. Tribes that once depended on the outside world to help them run their Casinos, hotels, and other businesses are now depending on their own. Slowly the reservation boarders are closing and the outside higher rate is shrinking. They are depending on the new generation of educated youth to take over the businesses and run the reservations. This very shift is giving me hope that once again these sovern nations can operate independently from the outside world.

The outside world will always creep into the reservation. Students are faced with the stereotypes society placed upon them. If people looked beyond the images of HollyWood they would see the changes that have occurred. Yes, alcoholism, crime, and drug use run rapid on the reservations. People see the Casinos pop up and utter “Hell they have money what are they complaining for?” Not all tribes have successful Casinos, some are small and lie just beyond the paved roads where no one ever goes. I tell my students that they are the ones who will bust through the old image and create a new stereotype. They tell me “It’s easy for you AmandaJean, you half white.” True, I say to them. But just like you I’ve had to fight my way to the top. I never let my race stand in the way and I never let anyone put me down. I expect you to do the same, because you have the power to educate the public and to represent Indian people every day of your life. You are the ones who will change the American way of thought and you will bust the glass ceiling that was set.

Each fall we add a few more cracks to that glass ceiling when a student signs up for the ACTs and puts their name on a college application. Holes are punched through it when a student gets their degree. If we keep up at our current rate I hope to smash through it during my life time. I am patiently counting down the days until the first day of school. A day where I get to make my presence known and scare a new group of kids into go to college.

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