Catching a Dream

Native students urged to take control of their futures


With the help of schoolmates, Montezuma-Cortez High School ninth-grader Waynoka Whiteskunk creates a dreamcatcher during a team-building activity at the Native American High School Gathering, which brought 250 Native American high school students to the Fort Lewis College campus. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

With the help of schoolmates, Montezuma-Cortez High School ninth-grader Waynoka Whiteskunk creates a dreamcatcher during a team-building activity at the Native American High School Gathering, which brought 250 Native American high school students to the Fort Lewis College campus.

More than 250 Native American eighth-graders and high-schoolers were challenged to take responsibility for their own success during a daylong conference Thursday.

“You all get to choose what your future will be like, how successful will you be, what options will you have,” said Janelle Doughty, director of social services for the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, during the event’s keynote address. “You are the ones that will make the decisions about what happens in Indian Country as I grow older and you grow older.”

The Native American High School Gathering brought teenagers from Cortez, Mancos, Durango, Ignacio and Bayfield to Fort Lewis College, where they heard from educators, tribal administrators and FLC students about creating a plan for their futures.

The FLC ballroom reverberated with pounding when students made their own drumbeats on the tables. Then they brainstormed about obstacles that prevent them from walking to their own beat or achieving their goals at school.

In other sessions, students heard about different tribes’ creation stories and made their own dreamcatchers.

FLC President Dene Kay Thomas and an adviser from the college’s office of admissions also spoke to students about the opportunities for Native American students at the college, including the tuition waiver.

Most of the speakers focused on encouraging students to graduate and continue on to higher education.

The gathering also was a valuable opportunity for educators to ask students about the barriers that prevent them from being successful at school.

“We need to know what they need from us to improve their education,” said Cindy Higgins, director of higher education for the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe. “We’re asking them for solutions.”

The conference is the first of its kind for the region’s Native American high-schoolers and was funded by a Colorado Graduation Pathways grant from the Colorado Department of Education. The broader aim of the grant is to explore the reasons behind low attendance, low graduation rates and high dropout rates among Native American students, said Sara Broersma, a social studies teacher at Montezuma-Cortez High School who organized the conference.

“Hopefully, this is only the beginning of a dialogue with our own students,” Higgins said.

ecowan@durangoherald.com

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