Native American grads honored

It is not only the friends and family that are celebrating the achievements of three University of Minnesota graduates, but an entire community.
“I am proud and honored for our people,” said Gladys Cain, a respected Ojibwa elder, who offered the opening prayer at the recognition night for the American Indian Medical school graduates on Tuesday.
The center of American Indian and Minority Health recognizes the graduating medical students each year. Three Native Americans will receive their medical degrees Friday out of a class of about 300 students. Only 17 Native American students earned professional degrees from the University in law, dentistry and medicine last year.
The celebration included a screening of the award-winning film “Looks into the Night,” about a Native American medical student in California.
The film’s director, Lorraine Norrgard, said the film was inspired by a woman from Duluth but deals with many themes that affect Native American students.
“Many times there are issues that are considered culturally inappropriate, for example cutting up cadavers,” Norrgard said.
The director also said the students have a difficult time resolving the cultural conflicts.
None of the three graduates grew up on reservations, but all could identify with the two worlds in which they have lived.
“For most Native Americans, the road to medicine can be difficult because of the external struggles like the family and culture,” graduate Calvin Selwyn said.
The director of the center, Gerald Hill, said one of the goals of the office is to keep the students connected to their roots. The students have attended conferences about combining Western medicine with their culture’s traditional medicine.
“We want them to learn how to give back to their communities,” Hill said.
Although the number of graduates is down from 10 last year, the center expects 14 Native Americans to graduate next year.
The three graduates agreed the numbers are low, and attributed the statistics to several reasons.
“Students feel like a fish out of water. Studying in a city like Minneapolis may seem scary and ominous for someone not surrounded by their own people,” Jack Snedden III said.
Diana Benenati, the only female to be honored at the celebration, said a University would be a completely different world for the students who have never been away from the reservation.
“There would be a lack of the community and family at the University that they are used to,” Benenati said.
“The fact that there are few American Indian graduates certainly is not because they are not bright enough,” Snedden said. “They need a support system to make them feel more secure.”