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Why They Didn't Finish School
By Kaitlyn Boy
Heart Butte, MT


     I believe that a high dropout rate, cultural traditions regarding obligations to immediate and extended family members, and little motivation prevent young people on the Blackfeet Reservation from earning a high school diploma or a college degree. A few days ago my sister told me that her boyfriend was thinking about dropping out of school due to his drug and drinking problem. Hearing this made me worry about the outcome of this young man’s future and, especially, my sister's future. This is why Graduation Matters Montana (GMM) is so important to the Blackfeet Nation. GMM provides financial support for college readiness initiatives for all Montana students to finish high school and raise college graduation numbers. This initiative is especially important on Native American reservations in order to erase poverty. State Superintendent, Denise Juneau, Blackfeet and Mandan/Hidatsa tribal member, is helping not only my community, but also our entire reservation move forward to a future built on “hope, progress, and promise.”

     A 5-year study conducted by Montana’s Office of Public Instruction (OPI) reported that 48.6% of school dropouts are seventh and eighth grade students, while 23.8% are high school students (Jawort 36). OPI’s 2012 Dropout Report stated that 7.1% of 6,943 Native American students dropped out of high school compared to a 2.2% dropout rate of 54,204 White students. These facts tell me that 1 out of 14 Native American students will drop out of high school while only 1 out of 54 White students will drop out.  Native American students are four times more likely to dropout than White students.

     In the entire Heart Butte community, 2009 statistics indicate that 13.5% of this population did not obtain a high school diploma, but this number decreased to 4.7% in 2011 (“Heart Butte, Montana.” Onboard Informatics).  I was born and raised on the Blackfeet Reservation, and I have witnessed my own relatives consuming alcohol along the road and selling anything they can to pay for the next drink, day in and day out. I have a vague memory of a video store that burned down and now lies in ruins. My grandma remembers when there used to be a small gas station here. Those memories are hard to believe, because the local Trading Post, our only grocery store for thirty miles, fades in and out of business.

     My father dropped out of school when he was a senior in high school, and now struggles to keep food on the table and clothes on both my and my siblings’ backs. Due to the lack of education, jobs on the reservation are minimal and those that exist are already taken. This makes it hard for members of my reservation to make ends meet. I know that if my father had earned his diploma and graduated from college, then his small mechanics shack could have become a profitable business, allowing him to employ members from our community. Instead, my father and my younger brother, Frank, are seasonal workers who make a quick buck cutting wood, fixing fences, and building the arbor for the annual Heart Butte Indian Days. Today, both of my parents remind me of their mistakes and push me to continue my education.

     Based on my own family history, I strongly believe that the dropout rate is connected to family obligations that often get in the way of a Native young person’s education either while in high school or when he goes to college. Soon after my grandfather was killed in an alcohol-related altercation, my father quit high school to take over the family ranch and provide money for my grandmother. These types of family issues affect many close-knit Blackfeet families. Another relative of mine returned home just before she started her second year of college due to her father’s failing health. Lastly, lost motivation may also be the blame for less Native American graduates. People like Superintendent Juneau who are working to help my community will help pave the way to a brighter future.

     Superintendent Juneau is determined to make sure that every Montana student is college and career ready, "In today’s global economy, a quality education is the key to economic prosperity.” (Superintendent Juneau’s 2013 Legislative Agenda 2)  Heart Butte School (HBS) District is one of nine Montana schools awarded a $5,000 grant to promote college readiness. This money has been used to provide parent/student incentives for Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completion to meet Montana's March 1, 2013 deadline.  This grant has also facilitated focus groups for students and their families to find out what keeps students in school and helps them to graduate from college. The grant provides a 2-day trip for high school seniors and their parents/guardians to visit several Montana colleges, including the Salish Kootenai College in Pablo, MT, the University of Montana and the College of Technology in Missoula, MT, and Montana State University in Bozeman, MT. The purpose for this trip is to help parents appreciate the value of colleges, what they are like, and witness the opportunities their students would miss or sacrifice if they are called home too often to meet family obligations.

     As a community leader, I know I will experience these obstacles throughout my college schooling. Overcoming these roadblocks will not be easy. I will stand my ground, say “no” when asked to come home, and graduate from college.




Sources Cited:

“Heart Butte, Montana.” Onboard Informatics 2012.

Jawort, Adrian. “The Dropout Cure.” Indian Country Today 2.13 (2012): 36-37.

Juneau, Denise. “2012 Graduation and Dropout Report.” Graduation Matters Montana. Montana             Office of Public Instruction, Helena. 2012 http://www.opi.mt.gov

Juneau, Denise. Graduation Matters PowerPoint. Graduation Matters Montana. Montana Office of Public Instruction, Helena. 2012 http://www.opi.mt.gov

 Lohse, Christopher D. “Striving to achieve: Helping Native American Students Succeed,”           National Caucus of Native American State Legislators, Education Committee of the     National Caucus of Native American State Legislators (2008). Available:             http://www.ncsl.org/print/statetribe/strivingtoachieve.pdf

Superintendent Juneau’s 2013 Legislative Agenda. “Montana’s Public Schools, Our State’s Greatest Asset.” 2013  http://www.opi.mt.gov


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