BILLINGS MT- The hotel conference room was filling up with eager tribal college students and supporters on the final day of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC); a yearly conference that showcases the best of what the nation’s tribal colleges have to offer. The people (participants) were taking part in a “Share Your Spark” session hosted by our organization the Native Youth Leadership Alliance (NYLA).
NYLA’s primary intention was to get a fresh take on what tribal college students were passionate about and encourage them to consider NYLA‘s approach which provides tools and resources to follow their dreams and goals. A majority of our NYLA members are current and former tribal college students themselves. NYLA made the case to the to the young leaders in the talking circle the importance of forging alliances with our diverse indigenous cultures which will only make for better communities, states, nations, and most importantly better people.
The NYLA fellows in attendance from the were Anna-Diaz Takes The Shield (Oglala Lakota) who is currently pursuing a seat in the South Dakota State Legislature following her success as a Shannon County Commissioner. She is working full time towards a degree in Social Work at Oglala Lakota College. There was also Noelani Villa (Kaw Nation) who is working very hard to obtain a Bachelors degree at Northwest Indian College in Native Environmental Science realizing cultural preservation is tied closely to the land. Jedediah Richards and Jesse Short Bull (Oglala Lakota) are devoted to filmmaking and storytelling in South Dakota. From Salish Kootenai College is Loretta Grey Cloud (Hunkpati Dakota and Kul Wicasa Lakota) who is attaining a Bachelors Degree in Life Science to better serve her community through dentistry and increased access to health care as well as Willy Bass (Winnebago Nation) who is aiming to become an elementary and collegiate teacher while helping high school students prepare for college. From the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) comes Angel Mills (Oglala Lakota) who believes mental health and art run hand and hand. She is studying film at IAIA and has a BA in Psychology from Portland University. Kaden Walks Nice (Northern Cheyenne) from Southwest Polytechnic Institute is looking to serve his community by studying and bringing sustainable energy resources to his homeland. Lastly there is Elaine Yellow Horse (Oglala Lakota) who is getting her degree in Lakota Studies with emphasis tribal law while being a champion collegiate archer at Oglala Lakota College.
Our session attracted college students from several tribal colleges in South Dakota, North Dakota Washington, Arizona, Minnesota, Montana and New Mexico from Tribal Colleges/Universities such as Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute, Cankdeska Cikana Community College, Northwest Indian College, Chief Dull Knife College, Institute of American Indian Arts, Leech Lake Tribal College, Navajo Technical University, and Oglala Lakota College. All of the students and college supporters reflected on their passions ranging from hot national topics such as challenging the Washington Redskin name, to stopping the Keystone XL pipeline. Others shared dreams of improving the quality of life for tribal members in their communities while others focused on the power of art to embolden and enrich our culture for future generations.
The session not only served as a way to share passions but was also a space for NYLA members to share the inspirations of their life and leadership dreams and goals they are pursuing now even while most still attend college. Each NYLA member helped lead smaller group discussions about the pathways they have taken and as well as giving words of encouragement for all that is possible in our communities.