MSU American Indian students present at national convention

By Erin Strickland for the MSU News Service

BOZEMAN — Five American Indian students from Montana State University shared their educational experiences earlier this semester at a national convention that is aimed at advancing educational programs and college and career opportunities of American Indian students.         

The students presented “Barriers, Roadblocks and Obstacles: Native Future Educators Share Their Stories” at the National Indian Education Association Convention and Trade Show, which was held this fall in Reno, Nevada. The presentation focused on how the students’ “family, academic and community relationships hold them back, keep them going and push them forward,” according to Jioanna Carjuzaa, MSU education professor and executive director of the MSU Center for Bilingual and Multicultural Education in the College of Education, Health and Human Development. Carjuzaa is the faculty adviser for the MSU Wanji Oyate student group, which helped fund the students’ presentation, and she accompanied the students to the convention.

In their presentation, the students discussed stereotypes they face as they pursue careers in teaching, fighting low expectations and the challenges of trying to walk in two worlds.

Student Alisha Fisher said that the students’ goal was to share their personal stories in order to let others know how important emotional support is for Native students as they pursue their degrees. Fisher, who is a member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe, received a degree from MSU this spring in art education and now is pursuing a BFA in art.

“We come from really big families,” Fisher said. “Our relationship to our families is so close that it is literally hard on everyone when a family member leaves to go to college.”

The MSU students also organized a panel discussion and had participants review a framework Montana tribal leaders created for educators, called the “Seven Essential Understandings.” The framework is intended to help teachers integrate Indian Education For All in a culturally responsive manner, Fisher said.

The students who presented at the convention are part of the Wanji Oyate (One Tribe) Education Cohort at MSU, Carjuzaa said. The Wanji Oyate group is designed to provide financial, emotional and academic support for American Indian students in the field of education. Carjuzaa noted that fostering a sense of community, belonging and purpose is crucial to the students’ success, and she is pleased that the group has helped the students form strong connections with each another.

“It’s an amazing group,” said Terry Bradley, an elementary education major from Hays-Lodgepole and a member of the Gros Ventre tribe. Bradley, who also serves as student adviser of Wanji Oyate, added that he likely would have dropped out of college without Wanji Oyate. “I would do anything for the group.” 

In addition to providing emotional support and promoting connections among its members, Wanji Oyate funds educational opportunities so that students can experience professional opportunities that many students may not have until later in their professional careers. Wanji Oyate provided funds for the five students to travel to and present at the NIEA convention, Carjuzaa said.

Bradley said attending and presenting at the NIEA convention was “eye-opening to know that we are not alone in this effort to revitalize our culture and incorporate it into Western education.”

In addition to Fisher and Bradley, other MSU students who shared their educational experiences at the convention were Scott Flatlip, a health enhancement major and member of the Crow tribe; Donelle Williams, a health enhancement major and member of the Gros Ventre tribe; and Nicholas Rink, who received a bachelor’s degree in English education and is a member of the Blackfeet tribe.

Carjuzaa – who noted that the same group of students also presented at the NIEA convention last year, which was held in Portland, Oregon – praised the students for their passion, dedication and excitement. She said that the experience provided the students with “confidence that their voice was important.

“It gives me hope for the future,” Carjuzaa said.

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