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Little Big Horn College student believes struggle worthwhile

CROW AGENCY, Mont. - When Gordon Morning graduated from high school in 1987 he expected to go on to succeed at Eastern Montana College, just 60 miles from his home on the Crow Reservation.

But the separation from his home and family, a culture and a small community, proved too great an obstacle.

"It was a total shock to me," he said. "I felt inferior. I didn't feel like a minority until I left the reservation."

Morning says he lettered in academics in high school. "It pumped me up. I always wanted to be an engineer, civil or electrical. So I went to Billings to MSU-B (then Eastern Montana College) but I wasn't able to concentrate. It was a total difference, like day and night."

Morning says he left school and came home feeling like a failure, "like I let my family down. But I always wondered if I would go back to school."

He said he knew he needed to do something, but was unable to find direction.

"At a time of 90 percent unemployment on the reservation, I was trying to find a job. I tried welfare," he says. "But I felt like I was robbing from the poor. I mean I was able bodied and I had a mind."

It was then Morning forced himself to face his demons. He landed a job at the daily paper in Billings.

"I promised myself it wasn't going to be like the last time. So I talked to my elders, my uncle, and he gave me some tips and guidance. I wished I had (talked to him) the first time."

Morning said his time at the paper was most invaluable. He worked there for eight years, becoming a jack-of-all-trades.

"I learned about family, friends, and how to fit in this society. I learned about respect, character, how important an education is, and how a corporation runs. And I came out of there a good worker."

Although he had overcome his challenge, Morning said he realized this was not what he wanted to do for the rest of this life.

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"I knew I had to go back to school," he says.

In the time since Morning's first crack at college, Little Big Horn College had become an accredited institution with more than 200 students and a two-year associate of arts and information systems degree. After attending LBHC for one year, Morning was awarded an internship in Washington, D.C., where he saw student protests, and democracy in action.

"It really made me see everything students learn in school they can practice. I was sitting back and thinking, 'I wish I could do something like that.' When this (calls for LBHC president's termination) came up, I was compelled to speak up for the students. I talked to them and told them how I felt, and they felt the same way."

Morning says he feels the allegations against LBHC President Janine Pease Pretty On Top are not valid and have more to do with personal feelings some board members have for Pretty On Top.

"I didn't think it would come this far," Morning said. "As a student, I think of this place as an institution where we come to learn. This isn't a place where personal vendettas should be brought up. They don't see the effect this has on the students."

But Morning adds the troubles for the college are bigger than its enrolled students. "It's not about us students now. The students are standing up for their little brothers and sisters who have yet to go to college."

He says the students' recent protest marches, sit-in and continuing support for Pretty On Top, have changed him and his fellow students.

"I think it took one of us to go up there and stand up for a cause, and another followed, and another. I think the more this went on, the more the students got to know each other, and it gave them a desire to keep up the cause.

"It gave them courage for a new meaning and outlook on life. I really respect some of these students. They have families who work for the tribe and could lose their jobs over this. And I hold nothing against the students who have stayed neutral because of their family's welfare.

"I was at that stage in my life maybe just a year ago. Maybe our stage will change them. I think this has had a lot of positive change on the community."

"As for (the board members) there's nothing I can say about their ignorance, if they were wise enough, they would stand back and listen to the students. Instead now they are taking vendettas against the students.

"When does this insanity have to stop on their part? Give us a chance to achieve our dreams just like you have.

"This is a place where we come to fulfill our dreams and hopes. It's a place where dreams start," Morning said. "I think it's really important that it's kept that way."