many tribes are faced with the possibility of forever losing their
culture, customs and language. It is a plight American Indians
have been struggling with since contact with Europeans. One Native
woman is playing an active role in her community to fight the
extinction of her peoples ways and language. That woman
is Jennifer Sutherland.
or Red Elk Woman, is a 22-year-old Gros Ventre/Ojibway enrolled
member at the Fort Belkap Reservation in Montana. She is a proud
wife and mother of two children and was also a student at the University
of Montana-Missoula where she was the president of the Kyi-Yo Native
American Student Association. Sutherland attended the University
of Montana-Missoula for three years, majoring in Native American
Studies. Fortunately for the National Society for American Indian
Elderly and those elders she is currently helping, Sutherland took
a break from academia to be an Americorps*VISTA.
is one of the first outreach volunteers in the National Society
for American Indian Elderlys VISTA Reservation Placement Project.
NSAIE was established in 1987 as a 501(c)(3) organization to improve
the quality of life for on-reservation American Indian elders. NSAIE
supports a network of tribally established and administered services
to achieve its mission of improving access to and quality of health
care services. Quality of life improvements for the vulnerable population
of elders are provided through financial support, in the form of
small grants, to tribal senior centers for community health services
such as nutrition, transportation, socialization and in-home care.
is staffed entirely by volunteers who have committed their significant
talents toward developing a long-term, sustainable system for expanding
senior services on tribal lands. In October 2000, NSAIE received
the first of several grants from the Corporation for National and
Community Service for Americorps*VISTA volunteers to assist with
resource development. Since October 2000, NSAIE has received 12
Americorps*VISTA volunteers, who have been placed on various reservations
of its member tribes to work directly with tribal elders, as well
as conduct resource development for the organization. In the past
11 months the VISTAs have generated over $179,000 in cash and more
than $42,000 in donated goods and services to support the Native
American senior centers they are working with.
a VISTA, Sutherland is hoping to revive the culture of the Turtle
Mountain Band of Chippewa located in the Trenton Indian Service
Area. Her duties include grant writing, volunteer recruitment, and
program development. Two projects Sutherland is currently working
on are the construction of an assisted living facility in Trenton,
as well as a language immersion camp to be held this summer. It
is the revival of the Mitchif language that Sutherland hopes to
accomplish on the TISA. Only a few elders are fluent in Mitchif
and are located on the Turtle Mountain Reservation. At the week-long
language immersion camp Sutherland will also be teaching beading
and dancing, jigging and drum making.
preservation and revitalization are only a few of Sutherlands
goals to accomplish as a VISTA and as an American Indian. Currently,
Sutherland is working with the University of North Dakota-Grand
Forks on gathering data for a behavioral risk factor survey. The
information gathered from this survey will help set up a program
to assist people who are chronically ill, frail, or disabled maintain
their independence, be able to stay in their homes and communities
for as long as possible.
asked what her motivation was for joining Americorps*VISTA and working
with NSAIE, Sutherland said, "I want to help my people however
I can. I think thats why Im here today working for our
elders. Theyre the key to our culture surviving, and have
taught me so much. Its only right that I do what I can to
better their lives."
also recommends participation in the program to fellow Natives.
Upon completion of one year of service, VISTAs receive an education
stipend of $4,725 to be applied toward tuition or previous student
loans. Sutherland plans on utilizing this education award to complete
her degree in Native American Studies.
learn more about NSAIE, visit http://www.nsaie.org.
For more information on serving as an Americorps*VISTA volunteer,
Park is the grant writer for National Society for American Indian
Elderly. She is currently working with the Sault Ste. Marie Chippewa