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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 4 , 2002 - Issue 60


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National Park Service Courts American Indian Students

by John Stromnes of the Missoulian
Photo courtesy National Park Service
PABLO, MT - An official from the National Park Service visited the Flathead Reservation this week to make a plug for the agency as a career opportunity for tribal college students.

But he reached more than the students on the Flathead Reservation's Salish Kootenai College in Pablo. He sent the message out via a televised satellite uplink Wednesday from the studio of SKC-TV on the college campus, with the potential of reaching more than 18,000 students in America's tribal colleges at one time.

"This maximizes the opportunity (of tribal college students) to learn about the National Park Service and other government jobs," David W. Harrison, chief of the Office of Higher Education and Park Initiatives in Washington, D.C., said in an interview.

Harrison, 55, began his federal government career as a Park Service law enforcement officer, or "park policeman," in Washington some 30 years ago. Since then, he has worked for three agencies within the Department of Interior, including the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He has been a park ranger and an interpretive guide. He now earns between $80,000 and $90,000 a year at about the GS-12 level in the federal service - the equivalent of the rank of a lieutenant colonel in the armed forces, a Park Service spokesman in Washington said.

During his visit, Harrison also met with students at Kicking Horse Job Corps south of Ronan. He told them they should consider federal government careers, too - especially the National Park Service.

"Of all the bureaus, I personally like the NPS best because of the diversity of jobs," he said. "And you are learning skills that the NPS can use."

For example, automotive and diesel mechanics are in big demand.

"People used to look down their noses at people who worked as mechanics. But much has changed," he said.

One difficulty in applying for jobs with the Park Service, or other federal agencies, is the massive amount of jobs available. There are 20,000 employees in the Park Service alone, for example, although not nearly that many job openings at any given time, of course. But the jobs range from law enforcement personnel to park rangers, firefighters, administrators, maintenance workers, trades people and craft workers, such as plumbers, electricians, carpenters. There are many openings for interns, seasonal workers and volunteers, all of which can lead to full-time employment. Information technology also is a growing field.

Many Indian students may live next door to a National Park Service facility, because they live on reservations. That means they could start working for the Park Service or other federal facility close to their homes.

In fact, the National Bison Range, which is federally managed, is on the Flathead Reservation, and Glacier National Park, plus several wildlife refuges managed by the federal government, are short drives away.

Two Web sites with information on federal job openings are the National Park Service's job listing site - - and the federal Office of Personnel Management's massive site - - which lists virtually every federal job currently open, that is not filled by elections.

He encouraged students to stay off drugs (drug testing is a requirement of federal employment), and to aim at being extraordinary, not just ordinary.

"The worst thing in the world is to look back on your life and say, 'I wish I hadda ...' " he advised.

But becoming extraordinary involves sacrifice. Working for the federal government often means leaving the security of home to work among strangers, he warned.

"Relocating is not easy. But throughout your life, you have gone through change. Be willing to accept change," he said.

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