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.”
As 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.”