Native American convention stresses excellence in science

by Bryan Keogh

For the past 21 years, a national organization has encouraged Native American students to embrace technology without forgetting tradition.
The American Indian Science and Engineering Society reached out to about 2,000 students, professionals and tribal elders during a three-day national conference that began Thursday in downtown Minneapolis.
Established in 1978, the society encourages young Native Americans to attend college and excel in science-based courses, said Jesse Burnett, a engineering-society spokesman.
The University’s local chapter hosted the event at the Minneapolis Convention Center. More than 700 college students belong to 157 chapters throughout the country.
But while many college students attended the conference and shared their experiences, the emphasis was on younger students.
High schoolers in attendance found role models and friends among Native Americans who have already established themselves in science and engineering fields.
“It provides kids with an opportunity to meet people — people who have been in their place before,” said John B. Herrington, the first Native American astronaut and a member of the society’s board of directors.
Herrington became a part of the organization to help younger Native Americans find their way.
“The whole point is giving back,” Burnett said. “That’s a part of our culture because you didn’t get there by yourself. Once you become established, you give back to the little ones.”
Mike Rieman, a science teacher at Little Wound School in Kyle, S.D., brought 14 eighth-graders to the conference. The Ogala Lakota school has attended the conference for several years.
Rieman brought his students “to expose them to successful role models and get them turned on to science,” he said.
Jimmie Nell Oliver, a U.S. Department of Agricultural administrative officer, said she became a part of the organization to help students obtain jobs and internships.
Society leaders also announced a $5 million fund-raising drive Thursday. Last year, the society gave more than $600,000 in scholarships to students.
Oliver, who has been a society regional representative for six years, said students are the most important part of the organization.
“I like working with AISES,” Oliver said. “I like working with the kids.”
Billy Mills, the only American to win the Olympic 10,000-meter race, joined the society for similar reasons.
During his keynote address, he said the Lakota warrior value system taught by his father gave him the strength to finish and win the race. This focus on technology through traditional methods was typical of the conference, which ended Saturday with an old-fashioned powwow.
The warrior must learn self-responsibility, balance humility, unite through diversity and gain power through giving, Mills said.
“Find the positive desires within you,” he said. “Know yourself and succeed.”
Burnett said a strong community is needed for the younger students to confront the myths about Native Americans.
“If it wasn’t for Crazy Horse and our other great leaders, I don’t know where we’d be today,” he said. “We give the people the skills to be effective leaders.”

Bryan Keogh covers graduate and professional schools and welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3232.