Native American Student Danielle Antelope has a no-holds-barred approach to education—for good reason. It’s her future, and the future of her family and her community that are at stake.
Antelope, 21, is working on her associate’s degree at Blackfeet Community College and plans to get a bachelor’s and master’s. “There’s so much to learn and so much to share,” she said. “I’m going to go to school until they throw me out.”
An enrolled member of her father’s Eastern Shoshone Tribe, Antelope was born and raised by her single mother on the Blackfeet Reservation. She went to Browning Public Schools, graduating from high school in 2014 with honors. She attended a Native American student outreach program at Montana State University after her junior year. “Right when I got done with the program I already had my application for MSU and I had it filled out by the first week of school. I was accepted by Christmas break. MSU was my choice and it was for biochemistry. That was my passion. Chemistry was everything.”
But there were practical considerations. “My mom still had my two younger brothers at home, so I knew it was going to be loans and scholarships all the way.” When Blackfeet Community College offered graduates from her high school a free semester, it was the best choice for Antelope. “I decided not to go to MSU because of the free semester at BCC. I thought I could take my first semester to get used to college at BCC, then I’d go off and worry about scholarships and tuition and loans later.” But it didn’t come to that and “now at BCC I’m totally debt free and I actually get money back to me every semester because I applied for scholarships like a crazy lady,” she said.
What kept Antelope at BCC were the opportunities to learn about Native culture and language. “I started taking a Pikuni class in health that talked about traditional medicine and the plants we used to use as medicines. The subject totally fascinated me. I was taking an organic biochemistry class at the same time and ended up combining the two for a final research project on traditional medicinals.”
And that began to look like a career path for the Native American student, but one that would require another bold choice. “I’d done all the pre-reqs for the nursing program at BCC and could have applied with the rest of my class, but I didn’t turn my application in. It was a big choice because I knew that if I didn’t turn it in by the due date I was going to have to wait another year. But I needed another year to figure out if nursing was what I wanted to do. I think I was scared that there are not many people who go after traditional plants as a career. I wouldn’t have thought of that if I didn’t go to BCC because I wouldn’t have gotten those cultural classes anywhere else.”
This summer Antelope will be going back to MSU to participate in the PATHS program, an internship focused on food, agriculture and health in Native communities. She expects to receive her associate’s degree in the spring.
Next Steps for the Native American Student
Exactly what’s next for her depends on what happens as a result of an innovative effort to raise money to help Blackfeet Community College become a four-year college. In order to get the attention of foundations and other funding sources, a video featuring Antelope launched June 9 with the specific goal of raising enough money through crowdfunding for her to graduate from BCC with a bachelor’s in 2020. It is the first step in a large-donor fundraising effort to raise the $5 million necessary for BCC to become the first four-year tribal college in America not started with government funding—there simply isn’t any government funding available at this point. Antelope represents the hope for the future of the tribal college, said BCC President Billie Jo Kipp on the funding page.
Antelope said, “For me it all started at BCC because if I hadn’t done that first semester I wouldn’t have had the Pikuni class. I wouldn’t have made those choices along the way, especially deciding not to go into the nursing program.”
“I’m hoping that with PATHS and the video and my future, wherever it goes, that people see me as an inspiration for their dreams. You can go for something that’s cultural with science or with math. I want to show the Native youth that there are opportunities out there and that people are starting to realize that we’re going to take advantage of these opportunities if they are offered to us,” she said.
“Education is what’s going to get us somewhere. Education is what’s going to give back to our people. You’re not giving back unless you’re getting that education and coming back and sharing it,” she said.