Feeling like Changing Your Degree?

CELINA GRAY OF SALISH KOOTENAI COLLEGE

I work hard to be a proactive student, preparing a smooth transition from college to career. This is difficult on a student (and family) budget, but I have managed to get multiple travel awards to participate in career development opportunities. I enjoy traveling to conferences to network and engage with professionals. Another personal reward is that I get to meet inspiring, innovative students like myself who are doing the groundwork, building a foundation for women, and/or Native peoples in what has been a predominantly White, male-dominated profession. This has taken me to various destinations, exotic and local. I think of myself as easily adaptable to urban areas and small communities. What I see: demographics that I believe, need change. As a Native woman I know I am a “diamond in the rough.” The pressures I feel though are not unique. Recently, I experienced assault and battery at one of these conferences I attended (you know this if you have been following my blog). Please take notice, I refuse to call myself a victim. My injuries, skin deep, for the most part have healed. The emotional turmoil though that this experience has caused and how it has led to a reevaluation of many aspects of my life, is indescribable.

Demographics are noteworthy because being a competitive applicant means having a master’s in wildlife biology. Four out of five Native women are brutalized in their lifetime. Alcoholism rates mirror these domestic violence rates in a good portion of Native communities, communities like the one where my incident occurred. I know of only three Native women in this country who have a Ph.D. in wildlife biology. I have heard statistics that only 30% of Native Americans (male and female) have a bachelor’s; the numbers drop dramatically to only 10-14% who hold a masters. Afterwards the expert scholars are quite alone: about 3% of Native Americans have a doctoral degree. If I were any less of a woman, I would say the odds are against me. This experience has humbly opened my eyes.

As I prepare for a career, I am catapulted into the reality of statistics for Native women. As the justice system fails to address my case, I am torn between my studies and standing up for myself and others. So far, I am resolute in my abilities to perform and I will continue to do so. But for many who have seen worse injuries than I, the skills to identify abnormal behavior and cope, the knowledge of available services and willingness to seek help, indeed, a rebound, simply do not happen. The numbers seen above do not line-out causation, but when Native women are battling for privilege to be a part of mechanisms for change, it is easy to see how daunting the demographics are—especially when you have a family, when you have a daughter, when the school says they cannot protect you, when the judge dismisses your protection order over jurisdiction, when the prosecutor has not returned calls and it’s been over a month. I would venture to guess, you would, at the very least, think about changing your major too.

I believe in the pursuit of lofty heights, that comfort zones must be truly pushed to their limits, and that life is variable and requires a diverse skillset to navigate through it. We are in the era of self-determination—through this concept I aspire to make a difference in tribal natural resources and be a voice for Native women who need a reminder that they are worthy to be in these spaces. I cannot let indifference settle into John Marshall’s “domestic dependence” because, as they say, a woman armed with ancestral knowledge is an unstoppable force.

Celina Gray (Blackfeet and Little Shell Chippewa) is a student at Salish Kootenai College studying wildlife and fisheries.

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