Chief Gordon Yellowman and Culture & Heritage Project
Manager Greg Spotted Bird teach the young scholars how to
build a tipi from the ground up, weaving in life lessons along
the way. (photo by Shaida Tabriz)
It takes a tribe
to raise a child.
According to the National Congress of American Indians, about
32 percent of the Native American population is under 18 years old.
That means there are over 90,000 tribal youth scattered throughout
the nation battling the everyday challenges of life as well as statistics
of high suicide rates and increased health risks.
In their efforts to care for this growing number of Native youth,
the Cheyenne & Arapaho tribes Department of Education has reached
out to students throughout the tribal area, most recently in its
Young Scholars Program.
Ten students from Seiling, Canton, Watonga, Geary, El Reno and
Mustang in the transitional period of eighth to ninth grade were
selected to be part of the program. After a rigorous application
and selection process, the kids moved into dorms at the Southwestern
Oklahoma State University (SWOSU) for two weeks at the end of July
2015 where they took math and PSAT prep classes, forged new friendships
in recreational activities and learned more about the C&A tribal
programs available to them.
"We're just nurturing our next generation of leaders," Former
Director of Education Funston Whiteman said. We're going to follow
them all the way through high school and we're going to bring them
back in the summers to do
leadership training, leadership development. In their junior and
senior years, the goal is to get them in the rigorous
Education Specialists James Bates Jr. and Diedre Flurry served
as mentors for the group while instructors Laura
Sessions and Timothy Yeahquo took care of the academic part of the
"It's going surprisingly well with the students. I say surprisingly
well because it is an academic camp," Flurry said.
"They have the option of staying home, playing video games, going
to sports camps or just working, so the feedback
has been really great. They don't complain, they have a good time;
they work together. They are just really a bright bunch."
On Wednesday, July 22, the young scholars took the trip from
SWOSU to Concho as a way to interweave cultural
lessons with their math class. Cheyenne Chief and Acting Executive
Director of Education Gordon Yellowman taught
the kids about traditional ways with the practical application of
building a tipi. Culture and Heritage Project Manager
Greg SpottedBird assisted, explaining ways to apply the experience
to their lives, for instance in avoiding the complications of tying
"It was very successful. They did a really good job in paying
attention and the success is them working as a team,"
Yellowman said. "You respect these objects and in turn they're going
to respect you and fall into place. And that's
what we do as instructors, as parents, grandparents; we guide them
through their life. Life is a learning process. If they take away
one thing from this experience it's going to enhance their life."
The young teens took the instruction seriously, answering Yeahquo's
questions about formulating dimensions and being careful to honor
the sacred traditions of tipi building.
"I really enjoyed it, it means a lot to me what the tribes are
trying to do for us," Seiling student Marlo Elk Shoulder
said. "They're trying to make us go to our goals and what we're
trying to do in life. After college I'm going to try to
push myself to get a career."
Tribal programs reached out to the camp to help them establish
an open relationship and keep the channels of
communication open. C&A tribes' Executive Office provided iPads
to each student to help them keep in contact
through email as they return to their homes spread throughout the
Watonga student Ashley Blackbear expressed her goal of graduating
valedictorian from her high school and hoped the camp would help
her reach that aim.
"It's been really fun, I've enjoyed it," Blackbear said. "The
math and then the writing will probably help me and
becoming more sociable with other people too."