ON THE SIDELINES: Quit downing Indian kids, lift them up

by Sep 11, 2017SPORTS di-ne-lv-di-yi0 comments





While On the Sidelines is a sports column, as we know, many times sports-related issues go beyond the boundaries of the field.  This week I’m going to tackle the issue of American Indian students going to college – and graduating.

The noted website, collegehorizons.org, reports that only 10 percent of all American Indian students who enter college will graduate in four years.  That site goes on to state that Indian kids who come from a reservation are only one-half as likely to receive a bachelor’s degree as their white counterparts.

Ok, with that being said, I think it needs to be stated that while those statistics are probably true…they are true for now.  The next generation of American Indian students is becoming more and more ready to enter college than ever before.

Frankly, I get sick of hearing people say things like, “Well, they’ll be home before Thanksgiving” or “Why do they even want to leave?”

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of putting a post on the One Feather Facebook page highlighting the fact that Kennan Panther and Logan Teesateskie, both EBCI tribal members and graduates of Cherokee High School, suited up for the Carson-Newman University Eagles football team on Saturday.

SUPPORT: With his family looking on, Kennan Panther (seated center), signs a letter of intent on Wednesday, April 6, 2016 to play football at Carson-Newman University. (SCOTT MCKIE B.P./One Feather photo)

I had the pleasure of covering both of the signing ceremonies of these young men back in the spring of 2016, and both told me that playing college football has been a dream of theirs since they were young children.  Some might look at that and think that they have just wanted to play football since they were young…but, it’s been a dream to play college football…college…university…degrees…education.

These two are beating the odds.

Another Cherokee student-athlete that is thriving is Kendall Toineeta who is in her junior year at Lenoir-Rhyne University.  Last season, she played an average of 21.4 minutes per game and had a total of 25 steals.  But, not only is she succeeding on the basketball court, she’s still in school and is succeeding in the classroom.

Every single American Indian student that stays in school, works hard, and strives to graduate is helping to chip away at those awful statistics I quoted earlier.  And, those statistics can be changed completely if everyone in a student’s life (family, friends, Tribe, teammates, etc.) will lift them up; encourage them.  Never tell a student they can’t succeed.  Never tell a student they should feel bad for wanting to pursue their dreams.  Never tell a student they won’t fit it at a larger school.  Just don’t.

Tell them they are just as good as every other student.  Tell them to follow their life’s dreams.  Tell them you support them.

My daughter, Maleaha, is a senior this year, and our mailbox is full almost daily with colleges and universities recruiting her academically.  She’s excited to go to the next level of education, and I’m excited for her.

American Indian students like Maleaha, Kennan, Logan, Kendall, and countless others from this Tribe and others from around Indian Country will fight to change those statistics so one day someone will write a column stating how students from the reservation have a 99 percent college graduation rate.