Canku Ota


(Many Paths)


An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


February 24, 2001 - Issue 30



Career Fair Shows Off-Reservation Choices


by James Hagengruber of the Billings Gazette Staff


Photo:  David Grubbs/Gazette staff

CROW AGENCY, MT. – On the verge of graduation, high school student Reuben Plainbull is beginning to get the jitters.

Should he go into forestry? What will it be like at school off the Crow Reservation? There’s a high demand for nurses, would this be a good career? What about his lifelong dream of being a mechanic?

The Pryor High senior attended a Little Big Horn College career fair Wednesday to hopefully sort out some of these questions. After meeting with college representatives, talking to employers and picking up scholarship applications, Plainbull said he’s thinking about studying mechanics at the Montana State University-Billings College of Technology.

U.S. Marine Sgt. Mark Contreraz introduces himself to Ernestine Little Mouth, right, and Vernell Bad Bear at a Crow Agency career fair Wednesday. The two women are students in Busby on the Northern Cheyenne Indian reservation.

But he’s worried about leaving the comfort of the reservation.

“It’s kind of hard, though, if you have to move,” Plainbull said. “You haven’t got anybody that speaks your own language.”

The fear is common among Indian students and keeps many from pursuing jobs away from the reservation, said Roberta Harris, director of school-to-work programs. Staying on the reservation is an uncertain option: Tribal statistics show unemployment on the reservation at above 40 percent.

To soothe these fears, successful elders were enlisted to speak at the event.

“A lot of our speakers are elders. We really do want the students to gain some wisdom from them,” Harris said. “The elders really are the pathfinders.”

One of the elders was 87-year-old Joe Medicine Crow who, in 1939, was the first Crow to earn a master’s degree. Medicine Crow gave the students a lesson in the qualities traditional Crow chiefs possessed: wisdom to keep the tribe unified, benevolence, upright character and spiritual wisdom to cope with unusual supernatural situations.

Medicine Crow said these leadership traits will work in modern times as well.

About 25 local high school students attended the event at the tribe’s multi-purpose building. There was a noticeable absence of students from nearby Little Big Horn College. One student who did attend, but wished to remain anonymous, said college enrollment has plummeted following recent struggle for control of the college. LBHC interim president Henry Real Bird was at a conference in Washington, D.C. and could not attend the event, college staff said.

Dan Old Elk, a sundance chief and director of Crow Youth Programs, urged the students to focus on education without forgetting spirituality and family.

“Set your minds,” Old Elk said. “But make sure you go to people who have already obtained this knowledge and ask them for advice. Respect for your elders will help you as you go forward with your goals.”

Fear of leaving the reservation has kept many young people from chasing internships at prestigious businesses or federal agencies. But in recent years, this has changed and young people who return from internships are role models for others, said David Yarlott, chairman of the business department at LBHC.

“There’s always that fear of leaving home and the culture shock,” Yarlott said. “What we want them to know is that life isn’t only about the reservation. There’s a whole world out there.”

Yarlott is a Crow and was raised on the reservation. He attended LBHC and became the first graduate of the tribal college to earn a Ph.D.

“I started here,” he said. “They see that as one of their own succeeding and think ‘If somebody here can do it, why can’t we?’ ”

But there’s still a stigma for some about leaving the reservation. Yarlott said he works with the students to convince them that it’s often necessary to leave southeastern Montana to learn the skills necessary to help the tribe.

“Education is probably the key component in the success of the tribe,” he said.

Old Elk agreed and said many elders now encourage and pray for the young people to succeed off the reservation.

“We recognize that education is very important,” he said. “If we have more education, we can come back and develop our own resources.”

Little Big Horn Community College




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