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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


March 23, 2002 - Issue 57


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Eagle Butte Teen's Resolve Takes Him Far

by Heidi Bell Gease, Rapid City Journal Staff Writer
credits: Photo of Jiles on the Berkshire School campus courtesy of Kevin Pourier
Photo of Jiles on the Berkshire School campus courtesy of Kevin PourierPeople who know Jiles Pourier might not be surprised to hear that the 16-year-old Eagle Butte boy is an honor student at a prestigious Massachusetts boarding school.

Friends know Jiles is persistent. He always has been one to set his sights on something and make it happen, whether it was perfect school attendance, a trampoline trick or a top test score.

Once, he jumped out of a car stuck in a snow bank, running seven blocks to school so he wouldn't be tardy.

Another time, 8-year-old Jiles begged his mother, Renee Turning Heart, to attend a rodeo near their home. She went but couldn't find her son.

"Here he comes, riding a sheep," Renee said, laughing at the memory. "Not only that, he rode that thing all the way across the arena."

And won a prize. That's how Jiles is. "He was always doing stuff like that," she said. "He just does stuff and does it well."

Dissatisfaction, dream
Odd as it might seem, Jiles' journey to Berkshire School in Sheffield, Mass., began with a sort of dissatisfaction.

It wasn't that things weren't going well in Eagle Butte. Jiles earned straight A's in all advanced classes and surely would have graduated near the top of his class. He had lots of friends.

But two things drove him to seek more.

The first was his dream of becoming a doctor. It led him to attend a six-week In-Med program last summer for American Indian students interested in studying medicine. It prompted him to volunteer at a local hospital. It made him want to learn more, to find every advantage to help him reach medical school.

The second motivation was a kind of fear. Jiles saw some of his classmates drinking and using drugs, and he worried about veering off course.

"There's a lot of peer pressure in Eagle Butte, and there's really nothing to do," at least not socially, Jiles said. He joined numerous activities, including student council, cultural groups and sports. "I knew if I stayed busy that there was a lot more of a chance that I would stay away from that and stay on the right road."

Visits to his father, Kevin Pourier, who lives near Scenic, helped him stay focused. "He just told me to stay on the path," Jiles said.

Money isn't everything
The path went east. Last year, Jiles heard about the Berkshire School from an aunt in Pennsylvania. She had met an Ojibwe student, a Berkshire graduate, who now is at Harvard University.

Jiles heard that and saw possibilities. Online, he found that Berkshire students pay annual fees of $27,850 for tuition, room and board.

That's money his family doesn't have. His mom works in a lawyer's office, and his dad is an artist. But Jiles is persistent. He applied anyway, submitting school transcripts, test scores, teacher recommendations and an essay.

Sandra LeBeau, Jiles' college-prep English teacher at Eagle Butte High School, wrote one recommendation, describing Jiles as outgoing, articulate and unafraid to express his opinions.

"I think I teased him that I was going to give him a bad recommendation so he wouldn't leave," she said. "But, of course, I was just teasing."

The fact that Jiles even had applied grabbed Phil Jarvis' attention. As assistant headmaster of Berkshire School in charge of enrollment, Jarvis is always looking for American Indian students for the two grants per class available from Berkshire and the Educational Foundation of America. "Usually, we have to go searching for them ourselves," he said.

Berkshire strives for diversity in its student body - its 385 students come from 30 states and 20 countries - but applicants aren't accepted unless they're likely to succeed. Jarvis looks for students with good character who are intelligent and motivated and who have a passion for something, whether it's art, soccer or current affairs.

Jiles had many passions, including traditional dancing and running. And for Jarvis, all it took was one telephone interview to relieve any concerns he had about a student from Eagle Butte, S.D., succeeding in Sheffield, Mass.

"An interview is tough ... but it was so easy to talk with him, and delightful," Jarvis said. "I put the phone down, I remember, thinking, 'Yep, this kid's going to be able to do this.'"

Homesick, excited
By the time Kevin found out that his son had applied to Berkshire, Jiles already had received a scholarship. Father and son are close, but Jiles lived in Eagle Butte with his mother, 17-year-old sister, Lacey, 13-year-old brother, Breighton, and 12-year-old twin sisters, Christen and Caitlin.

And he doesn't always tell everyone what he's doing (remember the sheep incident?).

By then, Jiles also had made an appointment with the tribal council of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, in which he is enrolled. Persistence kept him waiting through an all-day meeting to ask the council for financial help. It also helped him organize a street dance to raise spending money.

Kevin was amazed at his son's ambition. "When I was 16 years old, it was, 'What's going on this weekend?'" he said with a chuckle.

Still, Kevin was apprehensive. Family ties are strong in Lakota culture. Sheffield is nearly 2,000 miles from Eagle Butte, and plane tickets aren't cheap.

Kevin says that college dropout rates are high among native students, "because we're so connected to family. And to get removed away so far from home, they just come back home, you know?"

Jiles' siblings were excited when he was accepted to Berkshire School.

"I cried," his mother said, admitting that she had thought Berkshire was a long shot. "When it happened, it was like, 'Oh my God, it's actually happening. He's leaving.'"

The separation has been hard. Because of In-Med, Jiles hasn't been home since last summer. The family has stayed in touch through e-mail and telephone.

Kevin and his wife, Valerie, visited Berkshire last fall, and Renee visited this month. Jiles' Aunt Rhea is just three hours away, close enough for holiday visits.

Jiles has learned to rely on his friends. Faculty members also have been supportive. Some times are lonely, but Jiles is more excited than homesick.

"There's just so much energy, and he's just so excited every time I talk to him," Kevin said. "And he loves it. It's his dream. He said this is the best year he's ever had."

"Every day, I wake up, and it's like I can't believe I'm here," Jiles said. "A lot of people take it for granted, going to school there, but it's really cool."

Hard work, opportunity
There isn't much time to be lonesome. Jiles attends classes six days a week, with mandatory evening study halls and after-school sports participation. Jiles was the cross-country team's third runner, despite being its youngest member, and he later played basketball.

Life is structured, down to a strict dress code that requires boys to wear ties and sport coats or sweaters to class.

Jiles takes all advanced courses. "It's been, like, a little bit harder than I thought it would be," he said. "In Eagle Butte, I was used to maybe having one homework (assignment) every other night. Over here, it's homework every night for every class."

Still, he made the honor roll his first semester. "He has done very, very well, he really has," Peter Kinne, Jiles' adviser, said. He's as impressed by Jiles' attitude as by his grades. "He's always smiling and always happy. Everybody should have an attitude like his. ... He brings a lot to us, he really does."

Berkshire has brought Jiles opportunities - not all of them academic. He's made friends from Ireland, Jamaica and China. He spent Christmas holidays in Manhattan with a schoolmate, who razzed him for carrying a camera everywhere.

But while shopping in Times Square, they noticed a large crowd near the MTV studios. "Here Britney Spears was, waiting for her limo to come up," said Jiles - whose ever-present camera came in handy, as Spears posed for a picture with him. "She was real nice."

School feeds culture
Jiles acknowledges the irony of choosing to go away to school, when a generation of Lakota people was forced to attend boarding school away from family and culture.

But unlike those children, who were punished for speaking Lakota or practicing cultural traditions, Berkshire has encouraged Jiles to explore his culture.

Berkshire also has helped make another of Jiles' dreams come true. A traditional dancer since childhood, Jiles always wanted to dance at a Connecticut powwow so huge that Grand Entry takes three hours. The top four dancers perform a spotlight dance in the darkened arena.

This year, Jiles was able to participate in the fall powwow. He finished in the top four among dozens of traditional dancers, earning that spotlight dance.

Boarding school has made Jiles an ambassador for Lakota people, giving him a chance to educate others. "I think the stereotype for Native Americans is, 'Do you smoke peyote?' or 'Do you still live in a tipi?'" he said. "Those are the two main things people ask me."

"I really don't think that the kids understand where Jiles comes from," Kinne said, noting that most Berkshire students come from wealthy urban families. "But he moves with them pretty easily."

Setting an example
Jiles has some distance to go before becoming Dr. Pourier. He plans to attend In-Med again this summer, which will leave him just three weeks in Eagle Butte before school starts.

After he graduates, "Harvard-bound, I would say," Jarvis said. "Certainly Ivy League-bound."

Eventually, Jiles may return home to help his tribe. He already has become a role model, speaking to Minneapolis teens about how alcohol affects families and communities.

His focus is closer to home. "I think I have kind of an obligation to set an example for my younger brothers and sisters," he said.

It's working. Caitlin is determined to maintain perfect attendance at school, and Lacey recently wrote an essay about how her younger brother inspires her.

"He says it's not about being smart, it's about being persistent," Renee said. "He inspires all of us to do great things."

Teacher Sandra LeBeau said Jiles' former classmates feel the same way. "They are not in the least bit jealous or resentful of him," she said. "They really wish him well and are proud of him."

Jiles, she said, was "just as likely to poke fun at himself as he was to laugh at anything else, and that makes other people like you. One of these days, he'll have a great bedside manner as a doctor."

As much as anyone, Jiles has inspired his own parents. As Kevin said, "I tell people that when I grow up, I want to be like him."

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