Exploring the Impact of Dreamstarter

Dreamstarter 2019 Selection Process Underway

Since 2015, Running Strong for American Indian Youth® has helped 40 promising Native youth realize their dreams in the areas of Wellness (2015), Arts & Culture (2016), Education (2017), Science & The Environment (2018) and for 2019, Entrepreneurs.

Each of these 40 Native youth under the age of 30 have received a $10,000 grant enabling them to not only make their own dreams come true, but inspire others as well.

Right now, Running Strong staff is in the process of reviewing applications with this year’s fifth cohort of Dreamstarters to be announced on March 1, marking what will be the beginning of a new adventure in their lives.

Dreamstarter Teachers

Connie Michael had a dream for her students at Crow Agency Elementary in Billings, Montana which she dubbed “Crowpreneur” and it involved slime – lots and lots of slime.

“Last year we began a slime-making business and sold slime on Fridays,” she reported. To continue the slime-making enterprise with incoming students she was awarded a $1,000 Running Strong Dreamstarter Teacher grant.

Through the slime-making project Connie taught her students about supply and demand, balancing accounts, as well as how to provide excellent customer service for their slime-buying public and how to make change.

And speaking of the huge demand for slime – “The students in the lower grades have anticipated the beginning of our business so as of now we are looking to expand our inventory.”

In addition to using a portion of the grant funding for all the necessary slime-making materials, she is also encouraging her fifth-grade students to take an interest in cultivating native plants with a goal of creating Native foods to sell at their local farmers market.

Williamina Tailfeathers is a second grade teacher at Browning Elementary School in Browning, Montana on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation described as the “Backbone of the World” with the Rocky Mountains as their backyard.

Williamina’s dream was to create a cultural immersion classroom for the students at her school where the student body is 98 percent Native.

To realize her dream, Willamina was able to use her $1,000 Running Strong Dreamstarter Teacher grant to bring Native American art into her classroom by ordering the materials necessary to make dream catchers and rain sticks.

Williamina went on to state that her students now “…know what the original materials used were and what is used to make them today.”

“Thank you for allowing me to provide this amazing opportunity for my students.”

Dreamstarters 2018 Updates

Kunu Bearchum (Northern Cheyenne) had a dream to educate youth in the Portland, Oregon community about the health benefits and medicinal value of pre-colonial foods including leading a group of students on a week-long summer science expedition identifying and cataloguing indigenous first foods.

During the expedition, Kunu reported that day the sun had blessed Portland with an eerie orange glow: “Another day to give thanks and fulfill my promise as a Dreamstarter” as he led the group to visit with Tsagaglal, or She Who Watches, and retold the story of the chief Tsagaglal who was changed into a rock to watch over her people forever.

“Tsagaglal as a physical manifestation is a petroglyph (rock etching) and pictograph (rock painting) on the northern side of the Columbia river or Nch’i-Wana, which means ‘The Big River’ in the Sahaptin language,” he explained.

The group also heard from a traditional storyteller who told of the days before a dam was constructed flooding all of the Native villages along its banks – “forever changing and drowning the traditional trading hub which had served as a priceless cultural gathering place for several millenia.”

Lourdes Pedroza-Downey (Round Valley Indian Tribes) had a dream to identify and teach her Covelo, California community about indigenous plants used to create traditional Wailaki items including baskets and regalia through community events and environmental field trips to locate indigenous plants.

In November, Lourdes held her first community event at the local elementary school where she gave a presentation on T’oh-telh (bear grass) and how it is used by the Wailaki people and neighboring tribes.  During the Dreamstarter Academy in April, Lourdes found Wailaki baskets at the National Museum of the American Indian’s Cultural Resources Center that were made with t’oh-telh.  Lourdes took photos of these baskets and when she returned home began to study and learn about t’oh-telh and its uses.

Lourdes also created cards, with pictures and cultural information about t’oh-telh.  These cards were given to each of the 230 children and adults, who attended the presentation.

“Seeing the cultural items from my tribe in the museum gave me hope,” she told us.  “It showed me, that like the language, it is waiting to be awakened from its sleep. I can help with this. I hope to inspire others to want to learn about our tribes’ uniqueness and be proud of our tribes’ cultural knowledge.”

Tara Rouillard (Oglala Lakota) began looking into the traditions that make the Lakota people on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation strong and what she has found is “It all starts from home.”

“That’s why it’s important to learn about the tipi,” she told us, explaining that the Lakota use 12 poles with three representing the evening star, the morning star and the north star. The seven poles that hold up the tripod represent the seven Lakota values.”

Easton Chong (Native Hawaiian) had a dream to engage his community in traditional and sustainable practices of preserving the land and ocean – and he has been doing just that through his project of gathering 20 children each week to take on outings to the mountains and the ocean to care for the land.

“Our families of our community have been working hard and have committed to planting and rebuilding ancient sites,” Easton’s mentor, Amoo Kainoa, reported. “We have been rebuilding some ancient sites that have been destroyed.”

In addition, his fish feeding project has been successful.

“We feed them at the same place and the same time and the numbers of fish that come to shore have increased,” Amoo said. “We have been documenting this in our logs and have seen the numbers go up. It’s pretty cool that the fish can see us coming and they start to gather close to shore.”

“With our project these children have the opportunity to be outside at the shoreline or in the mountains taking care of our aina (land),” she says. “I loved that they get upset when they see trash left around pick it up. They have also been taking ownership of their plants and want to make sure they are healthy and flourishing. Watching plants grow and being able to take care of them has so many teachable moments.”

Keeping the Dream Alive

One of the primary goals of Running Strong’s Dreamstarter program is “Keeping The Dream Alive” by providing $5,000 grants to former Dreamstarters to enable them to do just that.

Among them is Cristin Haase, DMD, MPH, (Cheyenne River Sioux) who was a dental student when she applied for her Dreamstarter grant in 2014, the first year it was offered. Her dream, which she realized in 2016, was to create the Pre-Admissions Workshop (PAW) for Native high school seniors and college students interested in pursuing a career in dentistry.

This fall, the PAW program was awarded its third $5,000 grant in its continuing mission to address “oral health disparities in Indian Country by providing information, knowledge, and support to American Indian and Alaska Native students interested in a career in the dental health profession.”

“This 3-day workshop will give 10 Native students from across the country the opportunity to engage with ATSU-ASDOH dental students and faculty in discussions and activities designed to reduce barriers to applying to dental school,” said Gaylah Sublette, associate vice president, sponsored programs.

In applying for her Dreamstarter grant, Cristin was not thinking of herself as she had already realized her dream of getting accepted into dental school, but of those Native youth who aspired to the same dream of one day becoming a dentist.

“The process for applying to dental school has its own ins and outs,” explained Dr. Haase in the Winds of Change publication by the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, “and we’re able to guide students through it. This will hopefully lead to increased numbers of American Indians becoming dentists, with at least some returning to work in their tribal communities, where they can help improve oral health and awareness among American Indians in need.”

Today, Dr. Haase performs a range of dental procedures. “The other day I had a young girl who needed a tooth extracted — it was really hurting her,” she says. “Once I removed the bad tooth, the patient felt so good she gave me a high-five. Now that was rewarding.”

Another former Dreamstater “Keeping the Dream Alive” is Kelsey Tortalita (Standing Rock Sioux), Class of 2016, whose dream was to host a series of workshops to teach Native youth about art and their culture through beading.

Working with her mentor organization, the Sacred Pipe Resource Center in Mandan, North Dakota, Kelsey’s dream lives on through the groups of families who are participating in the on-going classes to learn various beading techniques.

Among those benefiting from the Keeping the Dream Alive grant is a young girl who has begun helping her mother bead jewelry and sell small items at various craft and vendor fairs.

“She is working her way up to trying to bead her outfit and she is getting very comfortable with the techniques,” reported Cheryl Kary, Kelsey’s original Dreamstarter mentor.

“Kelsey’s project has contributed greatly to a local effort to start a Native artists’ co-op,” said Cheryl. “Kelsey is a founding member of the business and is creating a critical pipeline of young artists for the business.

“We are very proud of the work she has done to get youth interested in traditional arts.”

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