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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


October 4, 2003 - Issue 97


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American Indians Hope to Use Nursing Skills on Reservations


by Gail Schontzler Bozeman Daily Chronicle


Little Girl playing nurseCrystal Russell, an 18-year-old freshman from Heart Butte on the Blackfeet reservation, remembers feeling nervous her first day of classes at Montana State University.

"I didn't realize how big the classes were going to be," she said. "I come from a little town, probably about 2,000 people."

She quickly got used to big lecture halls, but she's still adjusting to college. She still calls home every day.

"My mom's telling me to toughen it out, be strong," Russell said. "Make it through college, make something of myself."

While all freshmen face challenges, the overwhelmingly white Bozeman campus can be especially daunting for American Indians, the state's largest minority group. MSU officials have been trying to increase their enrollment from 2 percent of the student body.

Russell is one of 17 students at MSU in a unique program training American Indians to become nurses.

Called the Caring for Our Own Project, or CO-OP, it was started four years ago with a federal grant. Last year MSU won nearly $900,000 more to extend the program three years.

Its goal is to graduate more Native American students from MSU's Nursing College, working cooperatively with Montana tribes, the Indian Health Service, tribal colleges and nurse mentors. It has 31 students statewide.

"I wanted to help people on the reservation," Russell said. "The easiest thing would be nursing."

So that Indian nursing students will feel welcome and ready for MSU, they are invited to campus before classes start in the fall. They meet nursing professors, learn how the system works, have barbecues and form study groups to support each other.

Vinnie Red Star, 24, a Crow tribal member from Pryor, said starting college was "pretty exciting." After living in Seattle, he likes the fact that Bozeman is not has huge as "U-Dub," the University of Washington.

"You're not just another number," he said. Still, "There's not much color here. That in a way was a culture shock."

He enjoys hanging out with friends in the American Indian Club room on the first floor of Wilson Hall. It has computers, couches, coffee and no one telling him to hurry up, Red Star said.

"It's a home away from home."

Red Star said he's interested in nursing because it offers job security, and he has always been interested in the medical field.

"I want to go into forensics," he said. "It floats my boat."

Alphonse Obey, 19, a Gros Ventre tribal member from the Fort Belknap Reservation, said he hopes to be the first in his family to earn a college degree.

He sees nursing as a good way to help people, relieve suffering and help the folks back home.

"I was really excited to come to school, because this is what I wanted to do," Obey said. "If I go back home, I don't want to go without my degree."

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.

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