Most of us who have achieved a measure of success in our lives had someone special who believed in us—a family member, teacher, coach, or other caring individual who provided encouragement at a critical time.
I was raised by my grandmother from the time I was five months old. We were very poor, often living on less than $50 per month. At times we went without real food for weeks, subsisting solely on coffee and homemade bread.
When I was six years old and my grandmother was in her mid-fifties, the two of us worked as a team, picking potatoes as migrant workers.
My grandmother was well educated, especially for an American Indian woman born in 1899. Although money was extremely tight, every time she got a buffalo nickel, she put it in a can. “This is your college money,” she would say.
My grandmother died when I was a senior in high school. I was devastated. At 17, I thought my life was over. The person who believed in me and cared about me most was gone. But she had sown a seed—belief in the value of an education. And eventually her dream for me was fulfilled.
I worked my way through college cleaning animal cages. I advocated for Indian prison inmates, mentored Indian kids, and worked at the Native American Rights Fund. In 1975, I became the first American Indian to graduate from the University of Nebraska.
Today, as President and Chief Executive Officer of the American Indian College Fund, I help our country’s Native people take the most important step to controlling their destiny and improving their lives. I help them get an education.
I wanted to share my story to help inspire others. I also want to let all of you know–students, donors, tribal college faculty and staff–that I am proud and grateful to have you as a partner in this important work.