Through Their Eyes

By Jay Gentry

Diversity and multiculturalism is a major goal of all universities.  Students from all over the country and the world attend the University of Wyoming.  Among this diverse group, many Native American students have come to fulfill their educational goals.  Native American culture is an important aspect to this country’s history.  This is the story of to two Native students who have to the University and plan to return to their reservations to improve living conditions for their people.

Students from all over the country and the world attend the University of Wyoming.  This multicultural goal of education creates an extremely diverse student body.  Native American students who come to Wyoming find many resources available to them.  The culture and history of the Native American is an important aspect of our country’s history.  Many Native Americans from reservations across the country have come to Wyoming.  This is the story of two students who have come to Wyoming to fulfill their educational goals.  After they graduate, they plan to return to their reservations and improve living conditions for their people.

Anthony Lopez, a senior double majoring in Environmental Resources and American Indian Studies, plans to return to the Crow Reservation in Pryor, Montana upon graduation.  After graduating from high school in 1997, Lopez enrolled in a Native American college in Lawrence, Kansas.  Working with corn genetics and animal sciences in Kansas, Lopez then came to Wyoming for training in natural resources.

A research project through the University of Wyoming provided Lopez with training.  This project occurred before Lopez enrolled at Wyoming.  Through the training, Lopez narrowed his focus on what exactly he wanted to work with.  This project exposed Lopez to what the Environmental Resources Department at Wyoming is focused on and helped him to choose this school.  The summer research trained him for what he would be working with before enrolling as a student.  Therefore, before he attended as a student he was familiar with the program and staff.

The focus of the summer projects was water quality.  After the training, Lopez worked with the EPA near the Little Bighorn River.  The goal was to assess water quality near agricultural centers.  Spikes in e-coli and other contaminants were found in water reserves in these areas.  Cattle were getting into the water, and fecal contaminants were affecting areas sometimes miles away.  Water quality is essential to all life.  Now that the problem had been identified, the next step was how to deal with the issue.

Fencing off water areas and switching to well water for primary sources are two of many ideas Lopez and the others are working with to improve overall conditions.  However, these projects need more funding, people, data, and specialists.  “I have already been offered a job back home.” Lopez stated that once he graduates work will be waiting for him.  His overall goal is to improve water conditions on the reservations.

He believes that his second major in Native American Studies will be an asset when working with various communities.  As his focus will be on his reservation and others, knowing the cultural differences will be an asset.   His training in the scientific elements of the issue and the cultural aspects will make Lopez a valuable specialist in a field that desperately needs them.  Work will be easy to find on and off reservations, as Lopez states, “Anywhere there is water and agricultural this will likely be an issue.”

Lopez is dedicated to improving the quality of natural resources on the reservations.  Without pure resources public health could become an issue.  Our other student also wishes to improve life on the reservations, however, she wants to work with the youth.

Shana Thomas plans on returning to the reservation after graduation to help her community.
Shana Thomas, a graduate student working toward a counseling degree, plans to return home to the Duck Valley Indian Reservation in Nevada.  Thomas graduated high school in 2002 and the University of Nevada Reno in 2007 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Secondary Education.  She returned to her reservation and taught art and nutritional horticultural education before returning to college in 2010.

Thomas returned to study counseling because of what she has seen on the reservations.  She referred to the situation as a systemic cycle that can trap the youth in poverty and potentially drug addiction.  For her, the emphasis has to be placed on education and preventative measures to harvest their potential.  Some of the students on the reservations are not aware of the opportunities they will have once they graduate.  If long-term goals are established within the adolescents then the communities will see the youth choose to change their lifestyle.

Thomas chose the University of Wyoming in part due to its counseling program but also because of its location.  Being near the natural environment is important to her and she knew she wanted to avoid big cities.  Planning to graduate spring 2012, Thomas will return to Nevada and begin working with the youth.  Education is important to her and she believes that through education she can improve the situation for many people on her reservation.  “We have a collectivist view on the world, we want to help each other, and I see my education as an opportunity to help all others in my tribe.”  Her goal focuses on long-term changes starting with the youth today.  As these communities begin to move forward, life for everyone on the reservations will improve.

Lopez and Thomas both spoke highly of the resources made available to Native students on UW campus.  Aside from scholarships, the Multicultural Affairs office and student organizations attempt to create a support system for non-traditional students.  Both are members of the student led Keepers of the Fire.  Brandon Lewis, one of the Council Members of Keepers of the Fire, says that the primary goal of the organization is to spread cultural knowledge about Native Americans.  Keepers is open to any who wish to attend.  However, the organization is small and has limited resources.  Every other year a powwow is held.

Lopez mentioned that one thing the university could do to be more helpful to Native students, in particular, is to increase recruitment efforts.  Until he came to Wyoming for the training, he was unaware of the programs available.  Thomas also mentioned that once the students are on campus more could be done to make them aware of the resources available.  The support systems these organizations can provide are very important to non-traditional students.

Discussions involving non-traditional and minority students are important.  This article focused on Native Americans, whose culture was robbed from them and now are forced to move forward in an uncertain future.  While cultural studies, appreciation, and history are necessary for our diverse culture to thrive, we should also focus on what we have in common.



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