Dan at the U.S. Supreme Court on a trip to Washington, D.C., where he is representing the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) Student Congress
Dan, who grew up on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota in a single-parent home, became a single parent himself right out of high school. In his father’s shoes, he realized that every day was a struggle as he tried to raise a child on his own. “I grew up with a single parent; my father raised me and my brother after my mother vanished. One thing I was taught in life was to forgive your parents and I treasure everything good and bad from them,” he says.
Dan had a job working at his tribe’s local casino as a video slot attendant. He was working late hours and weekends dealing with angry people who lost their hard-earned paychecks gambling, then came home smelling of smoke from the game rooms, having earned just enough to pay his bills. Yet Dan says he was not getting anywhere with his life and realized there was no growth at his job.
Dan decided to channel his aspirations for success to help his people. He became the first person in his family to go to college. In 2005, Dan became a certified alcohol and drug counselor for the state of Minnesota and worked with the chemical dependency programs for the White Earth Tribe. He says he had gone through many of the problems his clients faced and wanted to advocate for them.
“I found my place working to help my people. When I was young I saw some of these traumatic things happen firsthand, [and] I wanted to break that cycle,” he said. “I wanted it to come to an end, because at the age of 18 I became a single father and was raising my son on my own. I wanted what’s best for him. Working with the people, I got inspiration as I saw all [of] their struggles that I went through which I could relate to,” Dan says.
Through his work, Dan showed people how to rebuild their lives and engage in activities that can put them on the path to success. He liked the work and decided to work in law enforcement.
“It hurt in my heart to see people go through traumatic events. One thing I strive to do is help my people, not only my community but also Native people in general. I want to fulfill my dream to be in law enforcement and show [them] that they can do this. I am doing this to be a really good advocate for my people. I look forward to helping them and really making a difference.”
Dan is in his final semester at Leech Lake Tribal College where he is completing an associate’s degree in law enforcement. He plans to attend the University of North Dakota to pursue a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.