"This is why I do what I do; to show that there’s more to life than just a reservation and that it is possible to accomplish your dreams... Giving encouragement to our youth that they don’t have to fall into this rez cycle of craziness…”
—Shawntyana Naatosaaki Bullshoe, age 18, student at Blackfeet Community College and Miss Blackfeet
On the Blackfeet reservation in northwest Montana, where the prairie meets the mountains, a close-knit community confronts crippling poverty and the social problems that often come with it. Getting through high school here isn’t easy: Only about 60 percent of the almost 550 students here graduate on time. And 60 percent of students are the first in their family to attend college. Indian Country has the worst educational outcomes in the country.
The Chronicle of Higher Education followed several Blackfeet high school seniors from their last semester at Browning High to their junior year at college. Charnelle Bear Medicine, and Treyace Yellow Owl are attending the University of Montana, four hours south of their hometown. Shawntyana Bullshoe is attending Blackfeet Community
College in Browning. One problem Native students face is family obligations pulling them back to the reservation. Another is newfound freedom away from watchful eyes of parents and guardians. Another is being only three percent of the population on a large public college campus in a culture that centers on individual success, a sharp contrast to the tight-knit reservation, where commitment to the community is the top priority.
Bringing American Indians to college will take more than outreach and entreaties to states and school. It will mean changing attitudes about the value of education—attitudes that, in towns like Browning, have been shaped by decades of destructive federal policy. Helping them succeed will take understanding and focusing on their goals. Native students tend to approach college as a way of giving back to their community, using the knowledge and skills gained at college to help solve the problems on the reservation. Both Charnelle and Treyace plan to return to their hometown after graduation, as a therapist for abused children and a bilingual speech pathologist, respectively.