Gazette opinion: Local winners inspire Indian students to succeed

2011-04-25T00:10:00Z Gazette opinion: Local winners inspire Indian students to succeed The Billings Gazette
April 25, 2011 12:10 am

Mariah Stiffarm’s talent on Billings Skyview volleyball and basketball teams has earned her places on all-conference and all-state teams. This 6-foot-2 junior has an outstanding record in academics and community service, too.

She has a GPA of 3.9. She volunteers with Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Yellowstone County and with Skyview’s Trading Cards program, which promotes a drug-free lifestyle to elementary students. She has coached volleyball and basketball at children’s camps.

For all these reasons, Mariah was chosen as Montana Student of the Year by the Montana Indian Education Association. She is the daughter of Garland and Lee Stiffarm and granddaughter of Junior and JoAnn Clark of Browning and Peter and Ruby Stiffarm of Fort Belknap. Mariah is an enrolled member of the Gros Ventre Tribe and a descendant of the Chippewa Cree, Blackfeet and Little Shell tribes. After graduation, she plans to attend the University of Montana to study physical therapy.

“Mariah’s intelligence, motivation and strong work ethic are inspiring and genuine,” one nominator said.

“Mariah has shown great maturity and patience in building rapport and creating trust with her ‘Littles,’ “ said another.

Dulce Whitford was named Montana Indian Educator of the Year. She was cited for work in Billings Public Schools, where she became director of Indian education last fall, and for her work in Great Falls, where she taught for several years. She also has taught summer school, incorporating Indian culture into lessons for students. A member of the Blackfeet Tribe, Whitford holds a master’s degree in Native American studies.

A letter nominating Whitford noted that about 1,500 Native American children are among the 15,500 students who attend Billings Public Schools.

“Dulce focuses much of her efforts on developing initiatives to close the Native American achievement gap,” said one nominating letter. “She is a true leader that others look up to and a great role model for American Indian youth.”

Montana Indian Education Association’s vision is “providing quality education for Indian students in Montana that will enable them to graduate from high school and pursue their dreams on an equitable level.”

The association recognizes that parent involvement is critical and that elders are important.

Carl and Blanche Goes Ahead of Billings were honored as Parents of the Year. Their many years of volunteer work in Billings schools began with Head Start. More recently, they have volunteered at Billings Senior High, coaching and supporting a basketball program for girls in Native American Club. They have three children, Natasha, Joey and Kaitlyn.

Montana’s Indian students are less likely to graduate from high school than non-Indian students. This graduation gap is seen in Billings Public Schools, too. Montana needs all its young people to be well-educated. Particularly because of our state’s rapidly aging population, each young Montanan is precious to the future of this state.

Mariah Stiffarm, Dulce Whitford and Carl and Blanche Goes Ahead have helped pave the way for Indian students to succeed in Montana’s largest school district. In helping students, they are building a better future for all Montanans.

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