The Blackfeet Brain Drain
After leaving to pursue an education, Sterling HolyWhiteMountain wrote in November, some Native Americans find themselves stuck between a longing to help their community and the lack of viable employment back home. “All too often,” he observed, “success for reservation Indians means leaving your heart in your homeland.”
I would like to add to Sterling HolyWhiteMountain’s article. I too am a Blackfoot living and working on the reservation. As I was growing up, my grandparents had neither indoor plumbing nor electricity in their one-room home where they raised their six children. My father’s generation began the quest for the promises of higher education by leaving for school. I remember quite well my grandfather telling me, “It’s a white man’s world, and it runs on education. If you don’t get an education, you’ll live like this. Do you want to live like this?” The chorus of “No, Papa” rang from all of us children sitting in his car. His point was: Go get your education, see the world, expand your mind, then come home.
After attending Cornell University as an undergraduate, then for medical school, I returned as a physician. I have met many highly educated Native people who have chosen to return home to stay and be an agent of change. We need the educated artists and writers of our people to stay and be the nidus of a collective of writers and artists that will take root and blossom in future generations. If you want a certain standard of living now that the reservation doesn’t have then yes, leave. But if you want to fight the good fight and be that agent of change here and now, I invite you to return home and stay.