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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America



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Non-traditional Career Path


by Richard Walker / Correspondent / Indian Country Today


Jaime TaylorTULALIP, Wash. - Four years ago, Jaime Taylor took a detour from the University of Washington to pursue an interest in flying. On May 22, she becomes an aviation pioneer.

Taylor, 26, will represent the Tulalip Tribes in a three-state flight to spotlight aviation as a career path for young American Indians.

Taylor, Cherokee, will fly a single-engine, four-seat general aviation airplane from a campus of Northwest Indian College west of Marysville, Wash., to D-Q Tribal College west of Davis, Calif. The flight will be filmed from a chase plane and made into a documentary, according to organizer Lee Carson.

Carson said Taylor’s flight will set numerous firsts: First female American Indian pilot; first unofficial speed record between two tribal colleges; first flight recognizing tribal youth programs and respective American Indian nations; and first documentary film encouraging young American Indians to pursue challenging non-traditional professions, such as aviation.

"No speed record, official or non-official, has ever been established by a Native American pilot in the history of general aviation," Carson said.

Nike and the Tulalip Casino are cosponsors of the flight. "I’ll be wearing a lot of Nike gear," Taylor said.

Excellent starting point
Carson, a Cheyenne and a commercial pilot, recruited Taylor for the flight after meeting her at Auburn Flight Services, where she is student services adviser. At the time, he was working with Lori Parks, manager of Tulalip’s Youth Prevention Program, to promote the tribes’ Native American Youth Aviation Education Program.

Taylor said she was sold on the flight after Carson told her about it. "It’s a really ambitious program," she said. And she represents a common demographic: female, young, American Indian.

Taylor was presented by Carson and Parks to the Tulalip Tribes Board of Directors, which endorsed her as the tribes’ representative and pilot.

Carson said there are about a dozen American Indian commercial pilots in the United States. "We believe this is an excellent starting point to attract attention [to an aviation] program for American Indian youth in a field where minority representation is limited," he said.

Eric Brunstetter, an instructor at Proflight Aviation in Renton, will accompany Taylor on the flight. He said career opportunities in aviation are opening for young people. "I see quite a few kids [as flight students], mostly in their senior year in high school, who are considering going to an aviation university. This program could help them get a jump start on their education."

Brunstetter said there’s a lot more to aviation than flying a commercial jet. There are jobs as flight instructors, bush pilots and parachute droppers. But jobs are starting to open up for commercial pilots too, particularly in small airlines as those pilots advance to larger airlines.

"We’re starting to see a lot of movement as pilots get sucked up [to larger airlines]," Brunstetter said. "Five years ago, there was a pilot shortage."

Parks said the Native American Youth Aviation Education Program will be held at Proflight Aviation, an accredited flight school. Nine students will take a six-week course that will lead to four flights.

Celebrating young people
If the flight is about educating young people, it’s about celebrating them as well.

Going along in Taylor’s plane will be Mariah White, 9, who helps support her family on the Tulalip reservation by selling fry bread. Mariah also gets to bring a friend.

"We want to reward her for being creative and for being just a good kid," Carson said.

After the record-setting flight to Davis, Calif., Mariah and her friend will visit San Francisco.

While Taylor will take part in a heady experience - setting four firsts, possibly leading young American Indians to aviation careers - she is taking it all in stride. In fact, in the same conversation about aviation she can be equally enthusiastic about her avocation: performing in improvisational theater.

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