Running Strong for American Indian Youth® 2021-2022 Dreamstarter Teacher Gwendolyn Couture
Running Strong for American Indian Youth® 2021-2022 Dreamstarter Teacher Gwendolyn Couture is a Native American Studies teacher at Ronan High School in Ronan, Montana, on the Flathead Indian Reservation where the student body population is more than 60 percent Native American.
Among the classes she teachers are the history and culture of the Salish people, federal Indian policies, contemporary issues in Indian Country and Native American film and literature.
She also noted that she teaches a unit on overcoming obstacles with her 7th graders each year.
“We use (Running Strong co-founder and Olympic gold medalist) Billy Mills’ life story as a foundational piece,” she told us. “We study him, watch the film ‘Running Brave’, and read his book, ‘Lessons of a Lakota’. It is always ranked by my students as one of their favorite units.”
“My classes are places were kids feel safe to be themselves but also pushed academically,” said Gwendolyn in her Dreamstarter Teacher application. “Until Covid hit, half of my class was spend in the community helping to build real relationships with elders.
“Our reservation is considered the melting pot of Montana reservations. We have over 20 tribes represented in our high school. My kids struggle with poverty, family break downs, drugs, and historical trauma.”
She mentioned one class in particular that her students are helping to shape, and last year they chose to focus on the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP).
“It started off as a research project and ended with them testifying to the Montana task force on MMIP,” she told us. “I watched these kids interview elders, runaways, and Tribal Councilmen. I saw the struggles of putting on educational events for their peers. They loved it and learned and grew more than I could imagine.”
For her Dreamstarter Teacher project, she used her $1,000 grant to support their next idea of creating podcasts about the reservation for their communities.
“As a teacher, I stress creating students with the confidence and skills that will make them valuable community members,” says Gwendolyn.
In her program report this month, Gwendolyn said the students’ project, “Native Voices on the Flathead Reservation,” provided the opportunity for them to pick various topics related to their home and culture and create podcasts.
“The kids were very excited,” she reported. “The podcasts have ranged from language preservation to connections between modern military service and Northern Cheyenne Dog soldiers.”
Gwendolyn noted that the students overcame challenges due to COVID-19 policies on the reservation which made many of the in-person interviews difficult to obtain, and understandably the elders have been especially cautious.