Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 19, 2001 - Issue 36



Record Number of Indians Graduating


 by Sonja Lee Great Falls Tribune Staff Writer


art Bald Eagle by John Nieto

Great Falls, MT - A record number of Native American students - 62 - is graduating this year from Great Falls Public Schools. In the next few weeks, 28 students will graduate from Great Falls High School, 20 from C.M. Russell High School and 14 from Skyline Education Center. Last year, 54 Native American students graduated.

"That's the highest ever," said Gloria Burrows, secretary for the Great Falls Indian education program. "This is really good news."

In a traditional celebration of the upcoming graduations, CMR and GFH students were presented with eagle feathers Thursday in two separate ceremonies.

"Education is probably the key to our very survival," said Marvin Farmer, a medicine man who blessed and presented the feathers at both schools.

The feather traditionally is awarded as a great honor for a deed or accomplishment. In many cases, when a Native American counted coup, ran up and touched his enemy with a coup stick, he would earn a feather. These students have a huge accomplishment behind them and have successfully counted coup on life, Farmer said.

Rachael Jarvey, 18, said she has been waiting to earn her feather. She said she is proud of her accomplishment.

"You don't just get an eagle feather. They are powerful and spiritual," she said.

By law, the feathers must be granted in a spiritual way.

The feathers from a young bald eagle presented Thursday were from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services migratory bird permit office in Denver. The office is part of the National Eagle Repository.

Cal Gilbert, Great Falls High School Indian Education director, said he was proud to be a part of the ceremony.

"In many cases, they have overcome tremendous obstacles to reach this point," Gilbert said.

The school system also can be proud of the growing number of graduates.

"Sixty-two is a very significant number for us," Gilbert said.

Many administrators said there were no Native American graduates 20 years ago.

For Gilbert, the presentation was also a personal celebration. His fourth child, Callen Gilbert, accepted his eagle feather.

As feathers were presented Farmer spoke to students about their responsibilities and the significance of the feather. Students were asked to keep the feather in a private and safe place and to pray in good times and bad.

"It's a real accomplishment," Callen Gilbert said. "It's like closing a chapter and starting a new one. I have been waiting for this for four years."

Nikki Lehner also said she felt earning her feather was an honor.

Lehner, who has cerebral palsy, said she wants to be an example to people.

"I want to make people understand how they should look at life and appreciate life," she said. "I can do great things."



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