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MSU student juggles school, family while building community for Indians on campus

BOZEMAN, Mont. – As a business student and president of the American Indian Council at Montana State University, Angela Howe Parrish’s school commitments and activities consume vast quantities of her time. She’s often tied up with homework, leading club activities and volunteering for events like the MSU pow wow.

But Howe Parrish is more than a student and leader. She is also a mother and a wife, and those roles also require enormous amounts of time and energy.

What’s remarkable about Howe Parrish, say those who observe her daily, is her graceful ability to balance her competing priorities.

“It’s a joy working with her,” said Jim Burns, American Indian student adviser in the Department of Native American Studies. “She is an excellent role model for our students. It’s just amazing that she can balance her different duties and still maintain a positive attitude.”

An enrolled member of the Crow Tribe, Howe Parrish, 32, enrolled in MSU three years ago. Rather than trying to keep her school and family lives separate, she works to merge the two.

“I never jeopardize time with my kids,” said Howe Parrish, whose daughter, Christiane, is 14, and son, Samuel, is 9. “That works because I usually bring them with me to whatever I’m doing here on campus.”

Howe Parrish has been married for nearly 12 years to Chris Parrish, who is also a Crow tribal member and runs a Christian music ministry geared toward reservation youth.

Before coming to MSU, Howe Parrish received an associate’s degree in health and human services from Little Big Horn College and worked for the Extension Office there.

Now, as president of MSU’s American Indian Council, some of Howe Parrish’s duties include organizing the AIC’s regular Indian taco sales to raise money for events, heading pow wow committees and leading Nations, a weekly group on campus that is devoted to issues associated with Indian students’ spirituality.

“Nations has been really important to me,” Howe Parrish said. “We talk about how we need to look to God, our creator, to help us with our struggles.”

Part of the reason Howe Parrish values her involvement with the AIC and Nations is because she knows it’s difficult for Indian students to be away from their families.

“Indian people are wealthy because of our families. There are not even words for cousin or uncle in some Native languages; it’s all brother or sister, mother or father, which shows our closeness as families.”

Being connected to the MSU Native community can help ease some of the pain that comes from being away from loved ones at home, she added.

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“The AIC is family here. I remember thinking, ‘I want to be president of the AIC to encourage participation, so people can feel like they’re part of a family.’”

The importance of feeling a sense of connection with other Indians on campus dates back to Howe Parrish’s own childhood.

Howe Parrish’s mother, who is Blackfeet, and her father, who is Crow, met while attending boarding schools in Oklahoma and were high school sweethearts. They attended MSU together after starting a family. Howe Parrish remembers attending events at MSU with her parents when they were students at the university in the ’80s, and she hopes to leave her own children with the same sort of memories.

“The experience of being here was such a positive part of growing up,” said Howe Parrish, who has three younger brothers and lived in Bozeman between the ages of 6 and 11. “I loved the experience of being here.”

Howe Parrish particularly enjoyed visiting her mother’s classes and attending picnics and other activities sponsored by what was then called the Indian Club.

“We were really involved,” she said. “I remember so many students and their families being there (at the picnics).”

Howe Parrish’s children seem to like their connection to MSU, too.

“My daughter already imagines herself going to school here,” Howe Parrish said. “She is just now starting to say, ‘What should I study?’ And my son is a big Bobcat fan.”

Howe Parrish looks forward to taking her kids to the pow wow every year, not only because they’ll interact with members of the Native community, but also because the pow wow showcases Indian people’s rich cultural heritage.

“It makes you proud we’re still able to show what we have as Native American people,” she said. “We can still express our culture through dancing, crafts and beadwork. I’m really proud to be an Indian. Growing up, I’ve felt better and better about who I am, about my identity.”

Howe Parrish hopes to complete her business degree at MSU in three more semesters and may try to earn a minor in Native American studies as well. When she is finished with school, she plans to continue to help her husband with his music ministry, and has ideas for businesses to start, both in Bozeman and on Indian reservations.

For now, Howe Parrish hopes to continue to help building a community for MSU’s Indian students through her involvement on campus.

“She has a lot of friends here and she reaches out to students and tries to support them,” Burns said. “It all goes back to her prioritizing what’s important and maintaining that balance.”