Frank Waln, Tall Paul, Tanaya Winder and Mic Jordan are artists. Successful, young, driven Native artists. And right now, they’re on a mission to encourage more successful, young, driven Native artists to follow their dreams. So, in support of the next wave of inspired indigenous youth, they started a scholarship program. It’s called Dream Warriors, and it’s for any Native student who is pursuing “creative curiosities and passions” in higher education.
“The scholarship is important,” Waln explains, “because it helps young Indigenous people realize that we can actually do what we love and follow our passion; that each of us has a unique gift to offer to the world; and that we can use that gift to heal and bring about change in our lives.”
Jordan Brien, a.k.a. Mic Jordan, connects with youth during his keynote speech at the University of South Dakota Building Bridges conference in March, 2015. Photo courtesy Jordan Brien.
All of the folks behind Dream Warriors are perfect examples of people who could’ve benefitted from a scholarship like this when they were starting out. Because the truth is, there aren’t an overwhelming amount of scholarships available for the arts.
And it’s not just a financial thing – it’s about the emotional support, too. It’s a way to remind the youth that their dreams are legitimate. Because let’s face it … when you tell your family you want to be a rapper, they might just give you a funny look.
Frank Waln hangs out with kids at a baseball camp at his home on the Rosebud Reservation in 2012. Photo courtesy Frank Waln.
Waln, for example, initially intended on going to medical school, but eventually realized he didn’t want to do that anymore and took a huge leap of faith by leaving pre-med and transferring schools in pursuit of a degree in sound engineering and music. That’s not an easy decision to make, because society conditions us to believe that “traditional” careers like medicine and law and business are more respectable. But ... had Frank Waln become a doctor, would he have been able to touch so many lives through positive messages and artistic expression? I would guess, probably not.
The arts are impactful, and Dream Warriors is recognizing that. We need our artists and all of the vitality, love and awareness that they spread throughout our worlds.
Tall Paul reiterates the concept:
Tall Paul holds a sign outlining the vision for his tribe: self-respect. Photo courtesy Tall Paul.
“This scholarship would’ve been big for me as a high school student because it would’ve encouraged me to believe that a career in the arts is realistic and achievable,” Paul says.
The mainstream love to reiterate the myth that Native students automatically get their school paid for, no matter where or what they study. This couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s one of the most frustrating stereotypes about Native country, because it’s a disservice to every Native kid or parent out there who has had to work hard just to afford a few credits or to pay back loans.
The mainstream is also is responsible for that think-inside-the-box mentality, and all of these hyped up notions about the most “respectable” careers being in government or medicine or law.
This is not to knock traditional career paths – of course anything our youth do to further themselves and to support their families is noteworthy. That being said, the reality today is this: no matter what you study or what your occupation is, the job market is tough and competitive. You have to hustle, you have to be creative, and you have to think outside the box in order to be successful. Success doesn’t mean money and a briefcase: it means following your dreams and working every day in a job that you are passionate about.
Native communities understand that well.
So, the fact that this scholarship is supporting alternative career paths and coming from young Native people who have succeeded in the arts is a very powerful thing.
Tanaya Winder teaches poetry to students from her home on the Southern Ute Reservation during National Poetry Month. Photo courtesy Ace Stryker.
Tanaya Winder puts it like this:
“I hope this scholarship encourages young artists in ways we weren’t, but also in ways we were because we’ve made it this far. And we’ll go further. That’s the Dream Warriors motto.”
The Dream Warriors scholarship officially launches May 1, 2015. It is open to all Native American, Native Hawaiian and Native Alaskan high school seniors. The application is due on June 1, 2015. Apply by going to dreamwarriors.co.