Scabbyrobe left the Blackfeet Reservation about 30 years and two Grammy
Award nominations ago.
He now tours the country with the Black
Lodge Singers, a group based in White Swan, Wash. He was in Billings
Monday for the opening ceremonies of the 27th annual Northwest Indian
About 1,300 students from across Montana
and North America are attending the weeklong event. Scabbyrobe hopes
they leave with their eyes open to other native cultures, as well
as to opportunities off the reservation.
"So many native students are bound
to the reservation," Scabbyrobe said. "I think it's really
important they venture out. They can benefit their reservation after
they go out, get their education and then come back."
The Northwest Indian Youth Conference
hopes to connect students - many of whom live in the most isolated
corners of the continent - with the latest professional and educational
opportunities, said Kenny Shane, one of the conference's organizers
and a member of the Crow Tribe. Billings also hosted the conference
Motivational speakers from across Indian
Country will present seminars throughout the week. Talent shows,
basketball tournaments and traditional cultural activities are also
scheduled. The conference moves to Crow Agency on Friday, for a
weekend of cultural events as well as a pow wow.
"We're just exposing the kids to
all the different opportunities they have," Shane said. "We're
trying to establish positive role models for the kids."
During opening ceremonies Tuesday morning
- after a performance by the Black Lodge Singers and prayers by
Navajo and Crow elders - Crow Tribe Vice Chairman Vincent Goes Ahead
Jr. advised the students to be guided by Chief Plenty Coups.
"He always envisioned our children
equaling themselves with the power of the white man's education,"
Goes Ahead told the gathering.
Even though tribal colleges are playing
an increasingly important role in educating young people, most American
Indian students feel they must leave their homes to find opportunities,
said Josie Holds The Enemy, a member of the Crow Tribe who now lives
in New Town, N.D.
"You have to get off the reservation
and learn more about the world," the high school junior said.
Hold The Enemy said she plans to attend
college to study computer science or photography. Then, she will
pursue a career in the Twin Cities. Will she ever return to the
"Probably not," she said, shrugging
Delvin Watuema, a 15-year-old Navajo from
To'hajiilee, N.M., said he traveled 12 hours to attend the conference.
Watuema said he hopes to learn leadership skills, as well as gain
insight into the cultures of other tribes.
Shortly after the conference began, Watuema
watched a hand games demonstration by the Crow. "That stuff
is really interesting to me," he said.
After high school, he hopes to attend
college, then serve in the military. Watuema said he has better
prospects compared to his parents, whose education included being
shipped away to a boarding school and being forced to learn English.
But change is coming slowly. Even if it's
by his own choice, Watuema said he will have to leave the reservation
to make a living in today's world.
"I believe that's the hardest thing
right now for young Native Americans," he said.