Canku Ota Logo
Canku Ota
Canku Ota Logo
(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
pictograph divider
University of North Dakota Honors Seven American Indian Grads
by Chuck Haga, Grand Forks (ND) Herald
credits: Grand Forks (ND) Herald photo by John Stennes

As she waited to be celebrated Friday for her professional achievements, Audrey Bercier gathered son Tucker, 7, into her arms.

He is a big part of why the physician assistant from Belcourt, N.D., was back on the UND campus, one of seven American Indians honored by the university for seizing educational opportunities and moving — in UND President Robert Kelley’s words — “into fields of their interest, their passion,” and shattering stereotypes.

Bercier, 30, an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and a former nurse, received a master’s degree in physician assistant studies in May 2007. She works at a health care facility in Belcourt.

Tucker helped her as she studied anatomy and other medical subjects at UND from 2005 to 2007.

“He let me practice all my examinations,” she said. “He was my patient, my study aid — my guinea pig. And he was the only kid in Head Start who knew what phalanges are.”

(We had to look it up: bone between fingers.)

Each of the seven men and women honored Friday is featured in a poster that will be displayed across campus and around the country, the second group in a series that UND started last year. Titled “Beyond Beads and Feathers,” the posters aim to address stereotypes and pigeonholing and celebrate the aspirations and abilities of Indian people.

UND’s Indian student enrollment could be counted on one hand decades ago, said Robert Boyd, vice president for student and outreach services, “and now is in the hundreds,” supported by 29 Indian-related programs.

“Our graduates have become some of the nation’s best” in law and medicine, engineering and art and many other fields, he said, “all while honoring the traditions they inherited as American Indians.”

A new portrait

The ceremony opened with a cedar smudge and a Lakota prayer offered by Doug McDonald, a professor of psychology and director of UND’s Indians Into Psychology program, and it ended with an honor song performed by the River’s Edge Drum Group, whose members are UND Indian students.

The portrait posters celebrating this year’s class of honorees constitute “a contemporary portrayal” of Indian people, said Leigh Jeanotte, director of American Indian Student Services, “as opposed to long-held, often painful stereotypes.”

In addition to Bercier, they include:

  • Lola Agard, a 1999 UND Law School graduate and member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, an associate judge in the Standing Rock Tribal Court.

  • Ryan Eagle, a 2003 UND graduate in public administration, now assistant director of his Three Affiliated Tribes’ Boys and Girls Club in New Town, N.D.

  • John Gonzalez, a member of the White Earth Band of Chippewa, earned a master’s degree and, in 2005, a doctorate in psychology, and is now an assistant professor of psychology at Bemidji State University. It was good to come to a school and see other “brown faces,” Gonzalez said in an emotional response. He lost his father and a sister while in graduate school, he said, but supportive, understanding people were there to help him through that and other difficulties. “Indian life is tough,” he said. “It’s hard to be an Indian. But I’m glad I was born an Indian.”

  • Brandon Haskell, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux in South Dakota and an undergraduate at UND majoring in psychology and aviation. “Both my parents taught me they didn’t really care what I did,” he said, “as long as I did it well.”

  • Tammy Lawrence, a member of the Spirit Lake Nation, earned a nursing degree from UND in 2000. She is a clinical nurse at the Spirit Lake Health Center in Fort Totten, N.D.

  • Nelda Shrupp, a member of the Pheasant Rump Nakota Tribe of Saskatchewan, earned bachelor’s (1990) and master’s (1993) degrees in fine arts from UND. Her work is displayed in major galleries around the country, and she works as an artist in Lakota, N.D.

  • Shrupp used the occasion to thank former UND President Thomas Clifford, who died earlier this month. “If it wasn’t for President Clifford, I wouldn’t be here,” she said. “I had run out of funding, and I went to see him. I told him, ‘I need five minutes of your time.’ At the end of the five minutes, I walked out with a full scholarship.”

Ban the carpet!

Bercier offered thanks to her parents, Bruce and Raylane Parisien, “for being there for me every step of the way, and for instilling in me a work ethic.”

Raylane Parisien said her daughter “was one of those kids — just like Tucker — who was always so inquisitive, easily bored if you didn’t keep challenging her.”

Bercier’s father, a carpet installer, added, “She won every science fair she ever entered, including one about allergies and bacteria in carpets.

“She almost broke me,” he said, smiling and shaking his head. “She wanted to do away with carpet.”

Tucker, who has a deep interest in the American presidency (and claims to know which one once skinny-dipped in the Potomac River), ranks John F. Kennedy as the best “because he was young” — and has calculated that he could be the 50th U.S. president in 30 years or so.

He brought two new books on the presidents to the ceremony Friday and showed them to Boyd, who said he fancies himself a presidential scholar.

Tucker “knows more than I do,” Boyd said.

Tucker started Head Start the same day his mother began working toward her credential as a physician assistant.

“He was my inspiration,” she said. “He made me want to be a person he could look up to, somebody who would make the world a better place for him.

“And I feel so appreciated by my community. People say, ‘You’re from here? You’re going to stay? I can come back to the health service in a month and you’ll still be here? They aren’t used to that.”

Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send e-mail to

Grand Forks, North Dakota map
Grand Forks, North Dakota map
Maps by Travel
pictograph divider
Home PageFront PageArchivesOur AwardsAbout Us
Kid's PageColoring BookCool LinksGuest BookEmail Us
pictograph divider
  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.  
Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 of Vicki Barry and Paul Barry.
Canku Ota Logo   Canku Ota Logo
The "Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America" web site and its design is the
Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 of Paul C. Barry.
All Rights Reserved.

Site Meter
Thank You

Valid HTML 4.01!