Here at the American Indian College Fund, we hear stories every day about our inspirational students who are surmounting great challenges to get a college education and give back to their communities. One such student was featured this month in USA Today: Dahkota Kicking Bear Brown, a member of the Wilton Rancheria in California. In his 17 years, Dahkota, a soon to be freshman at Stanford University (who finished his senior year with honors and a 4.4 GPA) and an American Indian College Fund scholar, has achieved more than other mere mortals in twice that time.
Dahkota is the youngest-ever person to be appointed to a White House Council position. Appointed by President Obama, Dahkota serves as a member of the National Advisory Council on Indian Education. In addition, Dahkota founded a non-profit organization to help young Native students succeed in school and life. The organization was born when a younger cousin asked Dahkota for help. After sitting down with Dahkota for tutoring and guidance, he turned his failure into resounding success. The good word spread and soon other Native students were coming to Dahkota for tutoring and mentoring help.
It was when he was in school that Dahkota read statistics that show Native students have the highest drop-out rates in school, lowest graduation rates, and highest teen suicide rates of all racial and ethnic groups. Current statistics show that only 13.6% of Native people ages 25 and older has a college degree. Dahkota decided to address that with his program, and incorporated it and expanded it to other schools. The non-profit NERDS (Native Education Raising Dedicated Students) now has ten chapters. NERDS helps students stay in school and change these statistics for the better as they go on to college and earn degrees, making a difference in their own lives, those of their families, and their communities.
In addition to serving with his own non-profit, Dahkota worked with the National Congress of American Indians’ Youth Cabinet, the Center for Native American Youth Executive Advisory Board, the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance as a White House Ambassador, the Generation Indigenous as a White House Ambassador, and on the planning committee for White House Tribal Youth Gathering. Dahkota’s awards and honors are too long to list in their entirety, but include being named as a United States Senate Youth Program State representative for California. He was the first enrolled member of a tribe to be named to that position.
Dahkota’s work this past year on Assembly Bill 30 (The California Racial Mascots Act) sparked an interest in politics, and he is considering a double major in political science and theater with a minor in Native American Studies at Stanford University. Dahkota steered that bill through the California legislature until it passed with bi-partisan support.
He says, “I proudly testified at every hearing, gaining votes to ban and remove the name ‘R-skins’ and mascot at the four remaining schools in California. Governor Brown signed this historic bill on October 11, 2015 and although I’m thrilled to know tribal youth in California now have a chance at an education free from mockery and exclusion, I can’t help but wonder how different my educational experience would have been if our people were never mascots in the first place.”
Despite the challenges that many Native students face in their daily lives and in their struggle to achieve a higher education, it is our students that give us hope. The College Fund is joining the Council on Foundations and Ford Foundation in its nationwide reasons for hope campaign, #ReasonsForHope. We share their belief that despite tragedy that our country is filled with students like Dahkota Kicking Bear Brown that are working to make a better world. His engagement, innovation, and leadership are lighting a path for all of us to follow. We are proud of Dahkota and of all of the scholars we support and wish them the best in the academic year ahead!