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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


April 20, 2002 - Issue 59


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Indian Students Urged To Go Forth

by James Hagengruber Of The Billings Gazette Staff
credits: David Grubbs/Gazette Staff
Vania White, left, and Lisa Pretty on Top participate with the rest of the crowd using hand signals to sing a song Tuesday at the Northwest Indian Youth Conference in Billings.
Vania White, left, and Lisa Pretty on Top participate with the rest of the crowd using hand signals to sing a song Tuesday at the Northwest Indian Youth Conference in Billings.Kenny 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 Youth Conference.

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 in 1998.

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 Crow reservation?

"Probably not," she said, shrugging her shoulders.

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.

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