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A Letter from American Indian College Fund Scholar Anitra

Aŋpétu wašte. Iyuškiŋyaŋ wačiyaŋkapi. Anitra Hill emačiyapi. Iyaŋ woslal haŋ hematahaŋ. Tȟatȟaŋka Iyotaka owayawa waŋkatuya ekta wablawa.

Good day. It is a pleasure to meet you. My name is Anitra Hill. I am from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and I attend Sitting Bull College.

When I received my first scholarship from the American Indian College Fund, no words could express what I felt in that moment.

Prior to this scholarship, I had to work full time in order to pay for my education, as well as pay off student loans that I had previously taken out. Being a full-time student and working so much chipped away at my motivation and piled on a great deal of stress.

Not only was my scholarship a financial relief, the knowledge that someone else believed in me and was willing to help me renewed my motivation to reach my full potential.

One thing I discovered on my educational journey is a direct correlation between having a degree and people listening to you better. I am glad this is the case, because once I have my degree, I can advocate for other Native people and have my own story inspire others to follow in my footsteps.

With this amazing opportunity, I ask myself, “How do I repay these people who have helped me?” The answer is simple: The only way I can ever repay the people who have helped me along this journey is to help others on theirs. This is what drives me toward my chosen profession.

I am devoting myself to the field of healthcare. I am working on my associate’s degree in practical nursing, but that is just a stepping-stone. My ultimate goal is to get my medical doctorate and open my own clinic on my reservation. I want to spend the rest of my life helping other people, just as I was helped.

I would like to take this moment to thank you, the donors of the American Indian College Fund. Thank you for helping me help others! Philamayaye!

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When we first shared Lauren’s story with you, she had just graduated from Haskell Indian Nations University and was working at a financial service agency in Lawrence, Kansas. But Lauren yearned for more. She had a feeling, deep within her, that she was capable of making a different kind of change in her community.

So she enrolled in the police academy. Lauren missed the camaraderie she’d felt playing sports in her youth – the feeling of working together toward a common goal. And she knows she can be the change in her community by focusing her passion of working together through law enforcement.

As the only Native American woman in her class, Lauren is hoping she can make a powerful impact. The city of Lawrence has a large number of Native Americans and is also the home to Haskell Indian Nations University – her alma mater. With Lauren’s “common-goal” approach to law enforcement, she hopes to be the catalyst for integrating the Native and surrounding communities. “Just like being an American Indian pursuing education, there are misconceptions and people telling you that you can’t or shouldn’t do it,” Lauren says. But none of that is stopping her. Education has given her the strength and the skills to succeed in her new career, and she believes no matter what career you choose, if you want to do it, you should go for it. She is truly claiming her future.

Lauren will be completing her training over the next few months and we’re excited to see what new challenges and accomplishments the future will bring. Congratulations Lauren!

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Johnny

The Columbia River runs through the land Johnny and his ancestors grew up on.  It is the 3rd largest river in the U.S., running from Canada to Washington, Oregon, and to the Pacific Ocean.

Johnny feels a strong connection to the Columbia, and to rivers all across the nation. That’s why he’s trying to save them.

Back in the 1940s and ’50s, a lot of dams were built,” Johnny says. “During construction, they dug big holes and dumped trash into them – including nuclear waste. That trash has been seeping into our rivers. Not only do I want to go back and clean it up, I want to research the effects of it and how land use over time has degraded the water.

Johnny felt that his tribe lacked representation and a seat at the table to discuss issues that affect his and surrounding communities. With the guidance of his tribe elders, Johnny felt he could have the greatest impact if he studied science and law, so Johnny’s core academic goals are to become a scientist, an engineer, and an attorney.

With those kinds of qualifications behind him, Johnny will be in a unique position to not only guide future policy regarding the preservation of our rivers, but also the ability to move policy along.

To be taken seriously in many circles, you need to have the ‘letters’ after your name,” Johnny says. “I want to bring the indigenous perspective of how the natural world works, but since I grew up with technology, I have a unique skill set.

Once Johnny helps the Native community develop models of how climate change affects the natural world, he sees his work being applied on a global scale. He feels strongly that we cannot keep going with the same land use practices and sustain it.

I am changing the perception,” Johnny says. “I am ambitious, independent, a hard worker, and I am Native.

Johnny will be graduating in May 2018 with one eye already on graduate school, but the other on rivers and dams.

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Mechelle

“I wasn’t sure what my future looked like, but I just knew I was worth more than $747 a month.” 

Mechelle Crazy Thunder was 23 years old and the mother of two children when she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. She knew life was about to change dramatically as she tried to figure out how she was going to live with a debilitating disease for the rest of her life. Her inspiration came from an unexpected source – following her diagnosis she was encouraged to go on disability, which was $747 a month. Well, Mechelle didn’t know how she would achieve her greatest potential, but she sure knew she was worth more than $747!

A few years after her diagnosis, Mechelle enrolled in college, determined to be more for her family and community. She had lots to overcome – she was a first generation student, she had children to care for, and she had an unpredictable, debilitating disease. She also had a burning desire to show people just how much she has to contribute.

Mechelle was the first person in her 190-member family to earn her associate’s degree, the first to complete her bachelor’s, the first to buy a house and a new car and next year she’ll be the first to earn her master’s degree. But she won’t be the only or last – her husband and children are among the many people in her community she’s influenced to attend college.

That’s now her life purpose – to get more American Indians to start and complete college. Her goal is to one day be the president of a tribally run college, where her influence will be felt community-wide and she will have the opportunity to touch thousands of people.

The value she brings to others is immeasurable, and certainly exceeds $747 a month!

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Maya

Maya has a passion for telling stories. While many people view being able to tell a story as a quality that’s nice to have or a form of artistry, storytelling is also a powerful tool for healing, validation and influencing social change. Having personally experienced both healing and validation through stories, it was natural for Maya to pursue her education at UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television with a directing major. This internationally renowned program is harder to get into than Harvard or Yale, with only 2% of applicants being accepted!

“The richness of storytelling has the ability to impact so many different things,” says Maya. “For me personally, stories helped me escape the chaos I experienced when I was growing up.” Exposed to too much too early, Maya found herself in situations no child should face. To escape, she tucked herself away in the pages of books. In particular, she fell in love with Harry Potter and would sit in her Gryffindor robes year after year for the midnight premieres of the films and book releases.

“I found solace in fiction because it was the only thing that made sense to me. It was the creation of a reality that stood separately from my own. The beautiful thing about stories is that they allow you, for moments, to truly live and see the world from another perspective.”

Through stories Maya was able to see past her own world, one where people died and fought, and where things didn’t ever make sense. But more importantly, from these books she learned that neither trauma nor obstacles define you as a person.

“I passionately believe that the stories of my people – our history, who we’ve been, who we are, and who we are becoming – need to be told. While many people think of sadness and tragedy when they think of American Indians, and I’ve certainly lived through my share, I’ve also experienced and want to tell the stories of great joy and laughter, of abundant love and of determination, hard work and success. When our stories are told, people will care and stereotypes will change – and that’s the real power of storytelling.”

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Breanne

Breanne, Student ambassadorAs a single mom living in her car with her children, Breanne had some tough decisions to make. She could continue living on the fringe, or she could claim her (and her children’s!) future. Breanne chose claiming her future.

There were two things holding her back – first, she had no college degree, and second, pursuing an education while raising and supporting her children would be a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. At least that’s what she thought until she decided to park her car in the parking lot at Sitting Bull College. Initially her thought was that the parking lot at the college would be the safest place to keep her family together while searching for a long-term solution for their homelessness. And then one day she decided to walk into the school, and she never looked back. The first thing the College did was settle Breanne and her children in family housing. Then she enrolled in classes. With the help of the American Indian College Fund, Breanne was able to attend college while receiving the additional support she needed to provide for her children.

She gets quite emotional when talking about her experiences at Sitting Bull College, “Being supported by my college and the American Indian College Fund while living through the most difficult time of my life inspired me to work even harder.”

Breanne is claiming her future by claiming her culture through learning her Lakota language. She has strong feelings students who learn their Native language and claim their culture have increased success in attending and completing college. This is certainly true for her, and has inspired her to set her career goals on filling a leadership role in Indian higher education.

“I literally found myself during my college experience. I can’t wait to use my education and experience to continue building systems and supports in Indian higher education that will create opportunities for young mothers to be able to provide better lives for their children, their children’s children and on through the generations.”

“As Native peoples we need to own our future and create better lives for our families and communities. By completing my bachelor’s degree and then attending graduate school, I will be in a position to influence Indian higher education, as well as show my children that their futures hold endless possibilities.”