"You'll never get that day back again."
That advice motivated Biron Baker to think about what he was doing and where he wanted to go. He focused on a path that took him through medical school at the University of North Dakota and on to service as a physician in the Bismarck area.
Biron grew up southeast of Mandaree and was attending Fort Berthold Community College when a cousin recommended UND. He had an idea of majoring in journalism and writing novels, but dropped out.
"I missed my girlfriend, and I kept going home," he explained. He missed his home, his family, and more: "The problem with the eastern half of the state is that there are no hills!"
Biron returned to UND when he secured a scholarship from the Indian Health Service. This time he found he liked UND a lot more. In fact, he found he was liking college life a little too much until his grandfather had a talk with him.
"He said, 'Go to school. If you miss something that day, you'll never get that day back again,'" Biron recalled. He buckled down with his studies, and his grades went up. Biron received the Harley E. French Award for "most improved student," and earned a bachelor's degree in psychology.
Biron applied to UND's M.D. program twice and was accepted the second time. Heeding his grandfather's words, "I never missed a day of medical school," he said.
Biron did his residency in Bismarck and then was sent by the Indian Health Service to Standing Rock.
"I was determined to live and work on a reservation, but Standing Rock wasn't a good fit," he noted. Biron moved to Bismarck and worked at MedCenter One for 10 years before starting his own practice.
Biron remains involved with the Three Affiliated Tribes and United Tribes. Married and raising two children, he enjoys powwows, Xbox games and movies.
Daniel Fluke always knew he wanted to fly. Through the University of North Dakota, he was able to set his sights on even wider horizons.
Daniel grew up in northern California, where he earned his private pilot’s license. When he started looking at schools, a friend, and former alumnus advised that he check out UND.
“UND looked better than any other programs I visited,” he said. At UND, he gradually became involved in American Indian Student Services. “They invited me to some luncheon functions, and I attended some meetings.” And they offered him a scholarship.
Daniel also worked at recruiting events and in other capacities for Ken Polovitz, assistant dean, Kim Higgs, academic advisor, and Amy Sand, academic advisor, all with UND’s John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.
“They were like parents and advisors,” Daniel said. “It was fun to work for Aerospace in all different aspects including student services and flight instruction. We went on recruitment trips, talked to hundreds of students, attended the Oshkosh Air Show, and worked to interest people in the program. I still keep in touch with many of those students today.”
Daniel started at UND in the summer of 2006; he attended and worked for UND Aerospace full time with three added summer sessions. In just short of three years, he earned his BS in Aeronautics in May of 2009.
Today, Daniel lives in Florida and is a first officer for Air Wisconsin Airlines Corp, flying all up and down the East Coast. When he’s not working, he likes to jump on a plane and go home to California and Florida.
“I like the freedom,” he said. “Nothing is planned. I can look at a flight board and say, ‘I want to go there.’”
Daniel has recently started his own business in Florida, writing and publishing Aeronautical Instruction Training Guides, with his best friend and old college roommate.
Daniel enjoys spending time with family and friends, and relaxing outdoors by the pool, and occasionally hunting or fishing.
Gourneau began his career in 1972 as a probation officer, but soon discovered he had an interest in helping families before they got into the legal system. “That’s when I developed a thought process that if one could influence family dynamics, not only the person in trouble with the court, but also help families,” says Gourneau, “I thought that was a better way to work with the family unit.”
After graduating from UND in 1994 with master's in Social Work, Duane Gourneau returned to Belcourt, ND, where he is a practicing mental health specialist. “I’ve always been a helper,” says Gourneau.
Some might look at Gourneau’s calling and wonder how he deals with listening to so many people’s problems. “From my point of view,” says Gourneau, “I always see people getting better with the right support. If people have the right support—the right information, someone cheering them on—they usually improve. How can I get tired of people getting better?”
There is nothing coy, or aloof in the way Gourneau talks about his clients. From the moment he meets them, he lets them know they are no longer struggling alone with their burden, be it anxiety, loss, trauma, depression, or relationship problems.
“One time UND chose me as an outstanding alumni, and everyone in the room was talking about who their mentors were, and they were naming some very famous people. All I could think about is I’ve had so many clients pull themselves up by the bootstraps. The people that I admire are the clients that have managed to take their lives back and get re-centered and go on and have a good life.”
Part of Gourneau’s approach to helping others comes from his codified core beliefs. To share just a few:
- True connection with a person is the most important part of the helping process
- A person can change at any age or at any time in life
- Change is constantly taking place whether we do anything about it or not, so why not steer the ship
- People get better with the right help
- Giving is the most important part of life
- The only difference between success and failure is that successful people are not stopped by problems or barriers. They work them through in healthy ways
- A crises is a great opportunity for change
- If something doesn’t work, try something else
“I don’t know if [the More Than Beads and Feathers campaign] has ever had a social worker before,” says Gourneau, “But it’s quite an honor to be considered.”
Working for Indian Health Services as an environmental engineer is both rewarding and challenging, says Jason Hrdlicka, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s in engineering from the University of North Dakota.
“The rewards are being able to provide native families and communities with the same clean and safe drinking water and wastewater collection systems that the rest of the country takes for granted,” he said. “We provide basic services to an underserved and disadvantaged population. A lot of people are very thankful for what we’re doing.”
The IHS Office of Environmental Engineering in Billings, Mont., where Hrdlicka is employed, serves as a funding agency and offers technical assistance to tribes in Montana. He works on a variety of projects, such as water storage facilities, sewage lagoons and water treatment plants.
“It can be tough to find the necessary resources,” Hrdlicka explained. “We might have a community that needs a new sewer lagoon that costs several million dollars, and the tribe doesn’t have the money. We’re constantly limited by the amount of resources we have.”
Originally from Wagner, S.D., Hrdlicka graduated from high school in Pierre, S.D. He received his bachelor’s degree from UND in chemical engineering in 2005 and his master’s in environmental engineering in 2007.
“I knew from the beginning that I wanted to do work in the environmental field,” he said. “A few years before I started at UND, the environmental engineering program was created. It was a nice blend of the three different engineering areas that interested me: chemical, civil and geological.”
Hrdlicka values the education he received at UND and the bonds he formed there with other students.
“I took a lot of good classes from many good professors,” he said. “We had a small group of students in each class, and it was nice to have those kinds of friends and partnerships for homework and projects. All of my best friends are fellow UND grads, and I still keep in touch with them.”
After graduating from UND, he went to the National Alternative Fuels Lab in Golden, Colo., where he conducted research on turning biomass into transportation fuels. But when he had the opportunity to serve as an environmental engineer with the IHS office on the Sisseton-Wahpeton Reservation, he took it. He worked in Sisseton for about two years before being transferred to the IHS Billings office.
What’s the greatest hurdle for young American Indians pursuing careers in engineering?
“The biggest issue is that a lot of Native American students just aren’t prepared,” Hrdlicka said. “You have to take your education seriously, especially if you want to do engineering. I took advantage of all the math and science classes I could in high school, and I had to study quite a bit.”
Fortunately, more tribal colleges are offering two-year pre-engineering degrees that help students build up their math and science background before entering a four-year university.
The rolling hills and rugged buttes of western North Dakota are quite a drive from the bustling streets of Grand Forks and the hum of activity that comes with campus life. The drive from Bismarck is 272 miles one-way as Cheryl Kary, the Executive Director of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, knows from making it two times a day, at least once a week, while earning her Ph.D. in Communication and Public Discourse.
When Kary started on this path, she didn't have intentions of consciously choosing leadership roles. Growing up she often felt shy, and looked for ways to be creative without having to confront people. "I gravitated toward communications because I always thought I'd be a journalist, a writer, a behind-the-scenes person. I would write the stories; I wouldn't have to go talk to people."
She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Communications and two Master's degrees from the University of Mary, as well as a Ph.D. in Communications and Public Discourse from the University of North Dakota.
"I grew up in a little community on Standing Rock called Cannonball. I went through the reservation school system...education is what you make of it. If I went through that system and was able to get my Ph.D., I know others can."
Although inclined to shun the spotlight, Kary one day found herself writing a letter to the editor of the Bismarck Tribune, critical of the paper's lack of strong Native voices, and suggested they pick up a Native American syndicated columnist like Tim Giago. The editor took Kary's suggestion to heart, but instead of a well-known columnist, he offered Kary the chance to write it herself. "Being young and dumb I said yes," Kary says, laughing.
Kary became the first Native American columnist for the Bismarck Tribune, and was eventually syndicated in the Aberdeen American News, and the Rapid City Journal.
But if you ask Kary what she's most proud of, she'll tell you it's her four children, and her granddaughter. Education is an important part of Kary's life, and a topic she brings up often with her family. "I think we all have the capacity to [earn an advanced degree] it just takes the will and the perseverance to get it done. I think native people have a lot to contribute to the wider body of knowledge about everything from science to literature to music--we have only begun to tap into the intellectual capital that is Native America. Advanced degrees are the best way to do that."
Francine McDonald, who received her bachelor's and master's degrees in public administration from the University of North Dakota, has been the human resources director at the Spirit Lake Casino and Resort for nearly six years.
"What I like is the variety of the job," she says. "It is almost never the same every day. We have over 400 employees, so it's always something different; it never gets monotonous."
She also likes being involved in family life – helping to raise two grandchildren – and participating in community activities.
Although McDonald's degrees don't directly relate to her job, she credits her UND education with providing her with skills she uses at work every day.
"We learned how to do written reports and give oral reports," she explains. "That really helps you learn public speaking – not to be so scared to get up and speak. It also helps with your writing skills.
"When I worked on my master's degree, the focus was more on critical thinking, which really helps out in my present job," she continues. "A lot of times, I have to make a quick decision and think about all the angles – about all the 'what ifs?' Getting my degrees gave me the confidence to make those decisions. "
She works with bright, young people on the Spirit Lake Reservation and has advice for those considering college.
"From the time I graduated from high school to the time I went to get my bachelor's degree, there was almost a 20-year span. I kind of regret that," she says. "When I talk to young people about school, I tell them that if they get their degree, they'll never regret it. They should just go for it. They'll realize that how much of what they learn in college translates over to their private life and their professional life."
McDonald says one of the greatest misconceptions young American Indians battle is that they can't go anywhere if they grew up on a reservation, but it's one that education can help conquer.
"I'm just really proud to be American Indian," McDonald says. "I'm proud of my community, and proud of who I am; UND played a big part in that."
Law was in his blood, explains Joseph Morsette.
His father was very interested in law, and so was he. It was a goal Morsette achieved over a path of thousands of miles, many detours, and several starts and stops. But what is truly unique and heart touching about the father and son's interest in law, specifically Federal Indian Law, is what inspired their passionate pursuit.
Morsette is the oldest of eight children who grew up primarily on the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation in Montana. When he was just three years old, his mother gave him and his younger two siblings up for adoption without their father's knowledge or consent. This occurred prior to passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act. As a result, Morsette and his siblings spent close to five years in temporary foster care while their single father launched the battle of his life to regain custody of his children – and won.
Throughout Morsette's pursuit of law, guiding forces that remain a constant in his life include the value of family, pursuit of education, grounding through traditional ceremonies and practices, service to one's country and community, hard work and persistence, and the realization of true justice for all. A highly accomplished Veteran, Morsette served four years of active duty worldwide in the Air Force, in addition to completing service over the years in the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard.
Morsette attended Haskell Indian Junior College in Kansas, graduated from Stone Child Community College in Montana, and completed his bachelor degree in criminal justice from the University of Great Falls in Montana prior to being accepted into UND's School of Law in 2001. Unfortunately, he had to drop out during his first year when he was activated by the North Dakota Air National Guard after 9/11 and deployed for two years.
This is where persistence comes in: due largely to his active duty service, Morsette ended up taking the first semester of the first year of law school at UND three times! During one stop-out that resulted from his struggling grade point average, he pursued and graduated with a master's degree in criminal justice administration from the University of Great Falls, during which time he served as a tribal judge for the Chippewa-Cree Tribe. In 2009, Morsette, at long last, completed his UND law degree.
The same day Morsette received his LL.M. diploma in the mail, he got an e-mail from the UND School of Law Dean Kathryn Rand, offering him the position of director of the Native Americans Into Law (NAIL) Program & Northern Plains Indian Law Center Faculty Fellow. He had planned to be a public defender at home and build courses for Stone Child College, but decided to accept UND's offer.
As director of the NAIL program, Morsette primarily serves as an outreach and recruiting resource for the North Dakota high schools and tribal colleges, and co-taught Federal Indian Law with Dean Rand. What he truly enjoys most; however, is the opportunity to assist and inspire students, planting the seeds of hope and empowerment through higher education in the minds and hearts of others.
He also has strong familial ties to the state and region. "My grandfather was born at Spirit Lake in Fort Totten and then moved to Fort Berthold and Rocky Boy. My great grandfather was an interpreter for Chief Rocky Boy."
Morsette returns to the reservation for traditional ceremonies. "I practice those ways of life," he said. "You can practice wherever you are, but for me, I need the close connection with my family and friends. It energizes me by giving me the inspiration and drive to do what I do throughout the rest of the year. It also keeps me balanced and grounded in what's important."
Elsie Morningstar, a member of the Three Affiliated Tribes, took a circuitous route to her career in education. "I think about where I am right now and I'm really surprised," she says, reflecting on some of her biggest challenges.
"I dropped out of high school at 16." Morningstar did go back and earn a G.E.D., but never considered going to college. "I didn't think it was something I could do."
However, when her husband died, Morningstar found herself with two sons. "I was a single mom, I was a widow, and I had two sons, and I wanted to go back to school so I could make a living for all of us."
Morningstar earned an Associate's degree at Sitting Bull College and then went on to earn a Bachelor's degree from Sinte Gleska University. "I feel like I was very lucky to get into that program." Morningstar now works with kids with a variety of disabilities and has served as the Intellectual Disability teacher at New Town Public School since 2003. "Most of them require a lot of individual instruction," she says.
She met UND associate professor, Dr. Marjorie Bock at a workshop while visiting about wanting to do more for her students. Dr. Bock talked to her about the United Tribes Special Education Program (UTSEP) being delivered through UND's College of Education and Human Development. Morningstar applied and was accepted into the collaborative program to earn her masters of science in special education. She worked full-time and took the courses on-line. Another requirement was to take classes on campus in the summer so she lived in Grand Forks for two summers in order to complete her degree.
Surprisingly, Morningstar now works at the same school she dropped out of years ago, and she's happy to be home. "I wanted to come home and encourage others to go after their goals and not give up, if you have a dream you can do it," says Morningstar.
"Every day when I come here to work... I feel really blessed."
If you want a better life, you have to make sacrifices. That lesson shaped Kim Rhoades' life, and she brings it to others with messages on healthy living.
Kim started out in the nursing program at the United Tribes Technical College (UTTC) in Bismarck, but became more interested in nutrition and began working as a technician for the diabetes program on the Standing Rock Reservation.
"Food can be an enemy," she said, noting the particularly severe impact diabetes has had upon American Indians.
Education about nutrition, diabetes, and healthy lifestyles became a mission for Kim — but it was one that could be achieved only with hard work and sacrifice for this single mother with two children.
Kim was urged to transfer to the University of North Dakota to pursue a degree in dietetics. Winning a scholarship through the Multicultural Scholars into Dietetics Program, she and her two children moved to Grand Forks in 2006. Kim was one of just 12 students accepted into the dietetics program.
"It was scary," Kim recalled. "I had never been away from the reservation or my family.
"I worked hard, studied hard and sacrificed, but it was worth it," she continued. During the last two years of the program, Kim left her children with her parents. "I had never been away from them before. My parents helped so we could have a better life."
Kim received her bachelor's degree in 2009. "I made it, I did it, and my parents were so proud," she said. With the scholarship, Kim was able to graduate without having to take out loans. She had also saved diligently over two years to accumulate enough to take her family to Disneyland. "My mom and dad sacrificed, and my sisters and kids were there for me," she said. "This was my graduation gift to them."
Kim also presented a Star Quilt to the Nutrition and Dietetics Department, where it is on display. "I wanted to thank them for being there for me," she said. "They were a little family away from my family, and I wanted to give back. Jan Goodwin [the department chair] was a lifesaver."
After graduation, Kim was offered a job as a WIC (Women, Infants and Children Program) coordinator in Bismarck. She commuted to the UTTC as an extension educator and nutritionist in its diabetes program.
Looking for a change of pace, Kim moved to the WIC Program on the Standing Rock Reservation, working with mothers and babies to help them meet all their nutritional needs.
In her spare time, Kim enjoys bowling, beadwork, making traditional jerky, and spending time with friends and family. Her daughter, Kenzie, is a jingle dress dancer, and her niece Brianna, who lives with them, is a traditional dancer. Kim also has a son, Justin.