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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


April 17, 2004 - Issue 111


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Message of Success fires up Teenagers

by MICHELLE DeARMOND - The (Riverside, CA) Press-Enterprise
credits: photo: Sophomore Heather Miranda, 16, speaks with David Anderson, right, after his speech to Sherman Indian High School students. Silvia Flores - The Press-Enterprise

The Interior Official has Sherman Indian High students in stitches and on their feet.

Sophomore Heather Miranda, 16, speaks with David Anderson, right, after his speech to Sherman Indian High School students. Silvia Flores - The Press-EnterpriseRIVERSIDE - Drugs and alcohol, poverty and mediocre grades didn't keep David W. Anderson from growing up to become the nation's highest-ranking Indian official, he told Sherman Indian High School students Wednesday.

And American Indian youths shouldn't let anything keep them from achieving their dreams, he said in an exuberant speech more characteristic of an inspirational speaker than of a bureaucrat.

"All of us Native Americans, we have to become the best that we can be," Anderson said. "God did not intend for us to be average."

Anderson, assistant Interior secretary for Indian affairs, brought his tale of triumph to the Bureau of Indian Affairs-operated school in hopes of inspiring the students to seek higher education, stay away from drugs and alcohol and be proud of their heritage. Anderson took his position just weeks ago and is spending time this week in San Diego for a meeting with Indian school educators from around the country.

Anderson said his own past battle with substance abuse nearly killed him three times. He said he's convinced that he's still alive because of the grace of God.

The poverty was so great, Anderson said, that he once scavenged his own car seats for quarters to survive. Speaking later to a U.S. history class, he quipped that he "used to go down to Kentucky Fried Chicken and lick other people's fingers."

Anderson eventually got a master's degree from Harvard University and opened a national restaurant company called Famous Dave's of America. Today, he's a multimillionaire, he said.

When President Bush asked him to leave the business world to serve as the assistant Interior secretary for Indian affairs, Anderson accepted. He said he wanted to do his part to keep students in school and to counter the high rates of unemployment, alcoholism and suicide among Indian people.

Standing on a sparse stage at Sherman Indian High School before more than 400 students, Anderson exhorted the teenagers never to give up their dreams and to work to share their talents with their communities. Twice, he insisted all the students stand and join him in chants, including one that had students shouting, "I feel happy, I feel healthy, I feel terrific," and punching their fists into the air.

"I have an opportunity to make a difference," he said after his speech. "How many people would have got those people up and rocking?"

Heather V. Miranda, a 16-year-old member of the Pala Band of Mission Indians in northern San Diego County, was bubbling over with excitement after Anderson's speech.

"OK, he messed up, he fell, he picked himself up," Heather said. "He inspired me to work hard to focus my mind more on my education."

Heather had thought she might go to Hawaii to study nursing or become a singer after high school, but she was reconsidering that plan Wednesday.

Now, she might go into American Indian politics and return home to help her tribe, where she said her father is the vice chairman.

Heather said she chose to leave her high school in Fallbrook a couple months ago to come to the Sherman boarding school, attended by representatives of more than 90 tribes from across the country.

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