Is College Not for You? 6 Options for Native American Youth

Native American youth and adults have options other than higher education, though the road to success may be challenging.
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We all have aspirations. Higher education isn’t the answer for all Native American youth, but it can definitely help in many cases.

Whether you’ve just graduated from high school, have been out of school for a while, have a family to support or are ready for a new journey, options are available for Native American youth and adults—whether they’re on or off the reservation.

There are millions of pages on the Internet, so we consolidated all sorts of career and travel-related information to help those who fit the aforementioned criteria.

Good luck to you seekers of new adventures!

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Monitor Your Tribe’s Jobs Online

Indians don’t have a Monster.com. Most tribes utilize their government websites to post jobs. This may be your best chance to get income flowing, and many tribes have allocated their funds in areas that could have you working indoors or out in the field, depending on your skillset.

Some even look to Bureau of Indian Affairs jobs on their reservations, swearing the government pay and perks outmatch that of the tribe’s. This other employer also abides by Indian preference and offers office and field jobs, whether it’s working with your tribe’s land or repairing the roads.

If your tribe has a casino, then the entertainment industry could also be calling your name, and you might be able to score some nice tips as a dealer.

All three of these options have positions that do not require more than a high school diploma or GED. Many offer their own training and development programs that could lead to you advancing up the tribal government ladder. You could be in business, my friends.

A word to the wise: The federal government’s lack of funding toward tribal government programs has resulted in tribes losing employment opportunities. This could make for more challenging employment.

First Step: Visit your tribe’s website and find the job announcements page. If you can’t find it, call someone at the tribe.

Get In Touch With Your Culture

Many smaller tribes are struggling to keep their languages and cultures alive in the modern era. There are a multitude of reasons for these losses, which include assimilation, employment, education and even technology. Some tribes have lost their languages altogether; others are fortunate to have a handful of speakers.

Native Americans rely on their customs and traditions to maintain their sovereignty as tribes. It has provided an indefinite amount of support to their survival in this country.

While it won’t always put food on the table, it’s of extreme value to your tribe, and there may be no more honorable of an act. Some consider getting in touch with their culture and language a way to strengthen their spirit. Who knows? One day this effort could lead you to being a spiritual leader for your tribe, which is more rewarding than a high-paying job to your people.

First Step: Find an elder, or a language or culture program or specialist within your tribe or a tribe you descend from.

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Work For Another Tribe

This is the easiest way to get a new start in a place that’s got that “home” feel but isn’t exactly your homeland. Depending on the size of the tribe, there could be several openings. Because each tribe has its own unique culture, land base and economic impact, the diversity of jobs may be reflective of their situation. But the important leverage to remember is, again, Indian preference.

It may take a little bit longer to get on board at a new tribe—as you’ll certainly be counted out of many positions their own tribal members, descendants and spouses apply for—your preference level as a member of another tribe should not be overlooked.

The beauty is: you could be on your home reservation, city or town and monitoring other tribes’ websites for these positions and taking shots in the dark every turn. Eventually, when an opportunity arises and your preference level warrants an interview, you can jump at a chance to try out a new scene.

Warning: Many tribes have difficult housing situations that you can qualify for, but you should have some savings set aside for travel to your interview and—if you’re hired—money for first and last month’s rent. If you do get an interview, it’s also a good time to check the area out for rentals, especially if it’s a long distance drive or flight. Grab a local newspaper and check out the classifieds section.

First Step: Hop on the Internet and find tribe’s at the distance you would prefer to relocate. From there, find their websites and job announcement pages.

Native American Youth Can Join the Military

Native Americans have a proud history in the military. Pima tribal member Ira Hayes helped raise the American flag in Iwo Jima during World War II. Navajo, Cherokee and Choctaw code talkers contributed to victories in World War I and II. Throughout history, many Native American youth have laid their lives on the line for the United States.

For some, like famed Native actor Wes Studi, the military has been a launching pad to a future that may be outside the required duration of service. Undoubtedly, though, you will have access to see a world far from your home that could provide a powerful change to your perspective.

Linda Old Horn-Purdy, of the Crow Tribe, was one of the first Native American women to serve on a combat ship in the Navy. She’s considered a pioneer for her service in the military. She initially signed up to enjoy the perks, such as education training and travel. “I needed a place to sleep, something to eat and for me, that was good enough, and to learn, that was the main reason,” she told ICMN in 2014.

From an employment standpoint, many tribes also have veteran preference if you’re looking to work. There’s also a level of influence a person in the armed forces has, as opposed to a regular citizen. Just look at what happened when thousands of tribal and American veterans descended on Standing Rock in December to show solidarity.

First Step: Use the Internet to research each branch of military service, then find the office nearest you. You could also call these places ahead of time to get more information and have questions answered.

Retired United States Navy Chief Petty Officer, Linda Old Horn-Purty, a member of the Crow tribe from the Crow Agency, Montana reservation, and the Head Woman Dancer. Joining the military for her was about the perks, whatever the reason, it’s another of many options for Native American youth.

Retired United States Navy Chief Petty Officer, Linda Old Horn-Purty, a member of the Crow tribe from the Crow Agency, Montana reservation, and the Head Woman Dancer. Joining the military for her was about the perks, whatever the reason, it’s another of many options for Native American youth.

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Native American Youth Can Be Creative

There’s a place in this world for American Indian arts—or variations of other genres with a Native spin. While there are college degrees, art is an ability you can work right away, whether it’s painting, tattooing, or a more traditional form of the craft. It might be a slow start, but if you put in enough time and dedication, you could find yourself hundreds if not thousands of miles away from home, showcasing your talents.

Many foreign countries have the utmost respect for Native Americans, and would be more than welcome to host you if you wanted to really immerse yourself in another culture.

Paul Fiddler (Cheyenne River Sioux) is a good example of someone who started young as a tattoo artist. “I used a wall tack and some pen ink and made initials on my hand,” he told ICMN in 2015. He continues his work today: “They are my own designs, and no two are ever the same.”

Another good example would be Jim Boyd, a Colville tribal musician who was honored with the Native American Music Association’s lifetime achievement award in 2014. For decades, he marketed his brand of Indian rock-n-roll, which led to him traveling across the country and into Canada and Europe. He also performed with the likes of Motley Crue, Cheap Trick and Joe Cocker, and provided music for the soundtrack to “Smoke Signals.” He did not attend college until his early 30s. And he started making cover songs. “I got so good at singing other people’s songs that I’d actually sing just like them,” he told the Seattle Times in 2003. “So when I tried to find my own voice it was hard, because I didn’t really have one.”

Native American youth can look no further than the example provided by powwow-step sensation A Tribe Called Red or renowned art activist Bunky Echo-Hawk. The former placed their first album online for free in 2012, which led to multiple opportunities for gigs and radio play. Now, you’ll hear their songs accompanying the Nike N7 collection videos—a line of clothing the latter has had a huge hand in.

There are dozens of styles of art you can focus on, including carving, sculpting, beading and weaving. Echo-Hawk’s passion led him to the Institute of American Indian Arts, which could help you refine yourself further if it becomes a chapter of your life.

First Step: Choose an art and buy the necessary equipment. Use free online resources and begin training yourself.

Join the Peace Corps

There may be no better chance to broaden your horizons than this option, which does not require a degree or much experience—though it is a competitive process. The Peace Corps offers a chance to help people in various countries across the globe while also inviting them to understand you and your culture. And the opportunity could transform your life.

Take Shawn Albeita, who wrote about his experience in Panama. He helped the people with sustainable business concepts that would outlast his term of duty, or so he hoped.

“My Peace Corps experience changed my life positively,” he wrote. “As an indigenous person, I was able to share my culture and build personal relationships. While I faced various challenges throughout my two-year service in Panama, such as learning a new language and integrating into another community, I was able to navigate these challenges and overcome them successfully. The people of Panama gave me more than I gave them. When I look back on my Peace Corps service, I am proud of the successful projects I completed, the positive changes I helped shape, and my personal development.”

First Step: Read more about what it takes to join, and apply immediately, it takes nine to 12 months of advanced notice to get you to your future destination.

Have a success story that did not include higher education? Share it with caryrosenbaum@gmail.com. Cary Rosenbaum (Colville) is a correspondent and columnist for Indian Country Media Network. Follow him on Twitter: @caryrosenbaum.

This story was originally published March 12, 2017.