SPEARFISH, S.D. – Valeriah Big Eagle, student success advisor and disabilities liaison at Black Hills State University-Rapid City, was recently accepted to the Native Nations Rebuilder’s 2017-2018 program. With this acceptance, Big Eagle will join a cadre of over 140 tribal citizens who have been trained in the best approaches to nation building.
Big Eagle, a member of the Ihanktonwan Yankton Sioux, is a first generation college student whose passion is to inspire and equip Native American students to attain college degrees.
“I am honored to be chosen,” says Big Eagle. “I was genuine with my story, who I am, and what I wish to become through this program, which is a stronger tribal leader, both in my home community and in Rapid City.”
The Native Nation Rebuilders program was established by the Bush Foundation in 2008. As of 2016, Native Nation Rebuilders is under the direction of the Native Governance Center. Native Nation Rebuilders enrolls members from 23 nations in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. The mission of the Native Nation Rebuilders is to strengthen tribal leadership by embedding leaders within public, private and entrepreneurial fields.
“As an emerging leader, I try to always keep learning,” says Big Eagle. “The mentoring and resources offered through Native Nation Rebuilders would be indispensable to my ability to represent tribal communities.”
Big Eagle began realizing her passion for helping Native American students achieve college degrees during her own undergraduate experience. She worked as a mentor for incoming freshman, helping them transition and navigate the college environment and resources. Big Eagle also worked in area middle and high schools, encouraging them to set their sights on college education.
In July of 2016, Big Eagle came to her current position at BHSU-Rapid City where she started the Native American Club He’Sapa Oyate for the large population of Native students on campus.
“I know the importance of feeling a sense of belonging at a campus,” says Big Eagle. “I felt that need for the Native population here at BHSU-Rapid City. The club promotes student success and gives them a sense of cultural belonging.”
She hopes to apply her Native Nation Rebuilders training to her position at BHSU-Rapid City, helping students become leaders in their own communities.
“If I can help them along their journey, that’s what I’m here for,” says Big Eagle. “That’s what I feel my purpose is.”
Big Eagle is currently finishing her master’s degree in student affairs administration and plans to pursue her doctorate in education. She says her drive to continue in personal and professional development comes from her family.
“My own little family and my extended family at home pushed me to go to college and to follow through. They didn’t always know how to support me, but they were there with the right words,” says Big Eagle. “They are why I do what I do—my family and my people.”
BHSU has a legacy of providing educational experiences for American Indians and has the highest proportion of American Indian students of any South Dakota state institution of higher learning. The Center for Indian Studies at BHSU seeks to support and encourage American Indian students while promoting awareness of American Indian cultures, value systems, and social problems among both Indian people themselves and members of the larger society. The Center currently administers four academic programs: the Major in American Indian Studies, leading to the Bachelor of Science degree; a general Minor in American Indian Studies; the Minor in American Indian Studies – Teaching; and an American Indian Studies Minor, Emphasis in Communications. For more information on the program, visit www.BHSU.edu/AIS