Three-Time Dreamstarter Mentor and Dreamstarter Teacher Cheryl Tuttle Shares Her Story

Because of Cheryl Tuttle’s (Yurok Tribe) initiative three of her students in the Round Valley High School Native American Studies Program in Covelo, California, have gone on to become Running Strong For American Indian Youth® Dreamstarters with each receiving a $10,000 grant to realize their dream.

Cheryl was the school’s Native American Studies Director in 2016 when she was informed by Running Strong Executive Director Lauren Haas Finkelstein that her student Blaze Burrows had been selected to become a Dreamstarter.

“We are excited to welcome you and Blaze into our family,” wrote Lauren in a letter congratulating Cheryl, who would be Blaze’s mentor. “As a mentor to one of our ten Dreamstarters, you will be part of Running Strong’s history!”

In Blaze’s Dreamstarter application, Cheryl said that the mission of the Round Valley Unified School District’s Native American Studies Program (which had been founded just two years prior in 2014) is, “By teaching about traditional values, Native American history, contemporary Native American issues, local culture and Native language, the Round Valley Unified School District’s Native American Studies Program will inspire a deeper understanding of ourselves and our Native communities, promoting self-growth and encouraging generosity through community service and education.”

Cheryl had been made aware of Running Strong’s Dreamstarter grant program by an employee of the Round Valley Indian Health Center’s Native Connections program, designed to prevent and reduce suicidal behaviors, substance abuse and promote mental health for children, youth and young adults ages 10 to 24 years old, who thought the Native American Studies program would be a good fit for the Dreamstarter program.

2016 Dreamstarter Blaze Burrows 

Blaze, a 16-year-old sophomore in Cheryl’s Native American studies program, came to her mind as the ideal Dreamstarter candidate with an already impressive resume: President of the Round Valley High School Native American Club; a community Wailaki (a nearly-lost Native American language) language teacher; and a Bear Dance drummer.

In addition, Blaze was enjoying learning how to play the traditional stick game Kyin-naal-del’ and teaching the game to his peers was his dream.

“Kyin-naal-del’ is a traditional Wailaki stick game played by males,” Blaze explained in his Dreamstarter application. “My idea is to teach other young Native boys to play this traditional game by starting a Kyin-naal-del’ training program. We will train a group of local high school Native boys and interested community males to be trainers. Participants will learn the cultural rules governing Kyin-naal-del’ and learn to carve the sticks needed for the game.”

Cheryl noted that Blaze has been in both the Wailaki 1 and Wailaki 2 classes, co-taught Wailaki evening classes with her, participated in the local Kyin-naal-del’ training and tournaments, as well as a drum group, all sponsored by the Native American Studies program, and had been chosen as one of 500 Native American youth to attend the historic White House Tribal Youth Gathering in 2015.

Blaze not only realized his dream, but for the past two years has continued to receive support through Running Strong’s “Keep the Dream Alive” program which has provided him grants of $5,000 each year to do just that.

Cheryl reported in February that in keeping Blaze’s dream alive, dozens of young boys have learned to play the game of their ancestors, and in many cases changed their lives.

Among them is Hawk, a 7th-grader that Cheryl describes as being “naturally good at the stick game,” and noting that he doesn’t play any other sports.

“He was retained (held back) in an earlier grade due to poor attendance,” she told us. “He lives with his ‘chosen’ grandmother’ (a friend of the family), as he was abandoned by his parents when he was very young.

“By providing the stick game that he excels in, it gives him more confidence and self-esteem among his peers. Hawk also excels at the Wailaki language,” she added. “By including his Native culture in school, it has encouraged him and helped him want to belong to his peers and school community, therefore his participation in activities has increased.”

Another is Buster, a graduating senior who was “quite the loner in middle school,” — that is, until he began playing the stick game.

“Buster began to play sticks when he was in middle school,” said Cheryl. “He was smaller than the other boys, with less strength.

“He loved the game though.

“He had connected with one of the elders who had specially carved a stick for him to play with. At this point he didn’t play other sports. Buster never gave up, even though at the beginning of his stick-game career he was out-run and out-powered by his peers.

“Buster continued to play sticks in high school. He also began to play other sports – football, basketball and baseball. He has also maintained good grades and has been actively involved in FFA (Future Farmers of America).

“Buster is graduating this year and is already signed up for college. As I have watched Buster grow up, I see his participation in the stick game as pivotal in changing this socially-awkward young man into a confident leader today.”


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