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Vincent Schilling
Indian Country Today

Five Native American young professionals have each received the Dreamstarter Gold grant on behalf of the Running Strong for American Indian Youth organization, a nonprofit founded by Native Gold-Medal Olympian Billy Mills.

The recipients are winners of a $50,000 grant. All of the recipients are Native and are previous recipients of Running Strong grants.

“The elders have the vision, but it is the youth that have the dreams,” said Mills in his organization’s statement. Mills, who is Oglala Lakota from Pine Ridge, South Dakota, and is co-founder of Running Strong. “These five represent the next generation of American Indian leaders. I believe in them, in their dreams, and in the future they are building for all of us.”

On October 14, 1964, Billy Mills won a startling comeback victory in the 10,000-meter run at the Tokyo Olympics and brought home the gold medal. The victory by Mills has been called the greatest comeback victory in Olympic history.

When contacting the recipients, they were told there were more questions in the interview process. However, Mills in a mischievous, yet heartfelt way turned the camera on himself to deliver the great news.

Here are the Dreamstarter Gold recipients provided by Running Strong:

Dr. Sara Chase Merrick
Hoopa Valley Tribe
Eureka, CA
Mentor Organization: Hoopa Tribal Education Association

Dr. Merrick’s Gold dream is to transform her original Dreamstarter® project of a one-week Hupa Language Immersion Summer School into a four-week-long camp for 30 Hupa youth ages 5-10 and their families. The camp teachers, comprised of Dr. Merrick and local Hupa speakers, will teach conventional school subjects in a uniquely Hupa way through culturally-based activities and the Hupa Language. The Hupa Language is a highly endangered language and only a handful of fluent speakers remain. 

Noah Blue Elk Hotchkiss
Southern Ute, Southern Cheyenne, Caddo
Durango, CO
Mentor Organization: Tribal Adaptive Organization

Noah will build upon his Tribal Adaptive Organization (501c3) to expand their programming and services across a broader audience in Native American communities, especially reservations. Tribal Adaptive improves the lives of Native Americans with disabilities by educating against misperceptions and barriers to the disabled in Indian Country and encourages healthy, active lifestyles for Native wheelchair users via wheelchair sports clinics and teams. The Dreamstarter® Gold grant will also provide for weekly programming, individual advocacy, and increased presence at national conference events.

Dr. Cristin Haase
Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe
Tempe, AZ
Mentor Organization: A.T. Still University of Health Sciences

Dr. Haase will expand her Dental School Pre-Admissions Workshop into the AI/AN Health Professions Workshop in conjunction with A.T. Still University of Health Sciences (ATSU). The AI/AN Health Professions Workshop aims to increase the number of American Indian and Alaska Native healthcare providers by hosting a workshop for interested students. Faculty and current students from ATSU will work with and mentor AI/AN youth to prepare them for the rigorous application processes for the following professional degree programs: doctor of dental medicine, doctor of osteopathic medicine, doctor of physical therapy, athletic training, and physician assistant.

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Riel LaPlant
Blackfeet Nation
Seattle, WA
Mentor Organization: Unkitawa

Riel’s project will promote interest in scientific careers and cultivate strong self-identification with Indigenous identities among his high school students through project-based learning (PBL) as they design solutions to support salmon and orca conservation – two keystone species of the Pacific Northwest, specifically the Salish Sea. Through building relationships with local tribes in the area, Riel hopes to eventually have his curriculum adopted at the state level.

Jeremy Dennis
Shinnecock Indian Nation
Southampton, NY
Mentor Organization: Rogers Memorial Library

Jeremy’s project, On This Site – Indigenous Long Island will preserve sacred and historical cultural landscapes surrounding ancestral Shinnecock tribal territory on Long Island, New York. Using digital photography and storytelling, On This Site allows the public to engage in indigenous history using maps, an interactive website, books, and traveling exhibitions. Jeremy will also host free workshops for local youth to learn photography and historical preservation through digital documentation.

About the Dreamstarter program on the Running Strong for American Indian Youth website:

6 years ago, Running Strong launched the Dreamstarter® Program to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Billy’s Olympic victory. Dreamstarter® was created to make the dreams of Native youth a reality through financial investment, mentorship, and community. Since its inception, the program has been more successful than we could have ever imagined. Running Strong has given away over $850,000 in grants to 60 amazing Native youth from 37 tribal nations and 24 states. We have witnessed their dreams come to life and impact their communities. Each Dreamstarter® has an amazing story, and we’re blown away by their success.

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Vincent Schilling, Akwesasne Mohawk, is associate editor of Indian Country Today who enjoys creating media, technology, computers, comics and movies. He is a film critic and writes the #NativeNerd column. Twitter @VinceSchilling. Email: he is also the opinions’ editor,

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