American Indian alumni take on roles of a lifetime as models of distinction in new UND permanent exhibit


Amy Halvorson

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American Indian alumni take on roles of a lifetime as models of distinction in new UND permanent exhibit

The University of North Dakota’s Hughes Fine Arts Center has a new exhibition ? and this one has is here to stay.

The permanent exhibit is titled, “American Indian Leaders of Distinction,” and it highlights and honors the exceptional work of nine American Indian alumni who have become leaders in the state and communities they serve, are committed to improving the lives of others and are preserving and promoting their heritage.

“My vision for the exhibition was to recognize and celebrate these important alumni for their leadership — as doctors, educators, artists and more, and all of them received their education at the University of North Dakota," said UND President Robert Kelley. “They are role models, not only in their own communities, but beyond.”

One of these role models, Donna Brown, a former administrator for UND American Indian Student Services, found herself honored and thrilled to be considered as one of these exceptional American Indian leaders.

“For a minute, I thought ‘Am I worthy?’ because I know so many other Natives doing great things,” Brown said. “I realized it was important for me to participate in the exhibit, not only for myself, but for others to see and say: ‘Hey, I know that lady and if she can succeed then so can I.' All of us featured serve as role models — whether we think we are or not.”

Sense of pride

The featured alumni were honored at an opening ceremony May 8. The UND photographers who created the portraits, Jackie Lorentz and Shawna Noel Schill, were recognized as well.

“It struck me when I walked into the room that, as an employee at UND, I assisted almost every other person on that wall and in some ways that made me feel more accomplished than my own accomplishments,” Brown said. “I helped some of them from the day they stepped foot on campus to the day they graduated and I was beaming with pride just looking around the room.”

Brown, who grew up in Belcourt, N.D., on the Turtle Mountain Reservation, and is a member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa tribe, is no stranger to higher education. After receiving her associate degree in business from Sitting Bull College in Fort Yates, N.D., she became a three-time degree holder from UND.

Altogether, Brown and her sisters have seven UND degrees and her husband is a UND alumnus as well.

“I am a very proud UND alum, both in terms of my experience as an employee and my three degrees,” Brown said. “In my immediate family we have 11 degrees between us so I have a very deep appreciation for UND and great pride in UND,” Brown said. “The encouragement and belief that the people at UND had in me both as employers and faculty members — even at times when I didn’t have that belief in myself — gave me confidence.”

Brown has been involved in the coordination of higher education programs, such as the Campus Suicide Prevention, Indians into Medicine (INMED) and American Indian Student Services at UND. Brown now lives in Fargo, N.D., and is continuing her impressive career in higher education as the chief diversity officer at Minnesota State University, Moorhead.

About the future

For Brown, it’s all about the future.

“My achievements aren’t just for me,” she says. “I know they’re going to have an effect on my children and their children and so on. We advance our Native American communities with whatever degree we get.”

“I want Native people to truly realize sovereignty, and we can only do that if we have Native professionals teaching in our schools, leading our governments, providing healthcare, etc.,” Brown said. “When I was growing up, all of the doctors, teachers and administrators were non-Indian, so I’ve seen a great change.”

The exhibit that features Brown and the others is located in the newly renovated Anna Mae Hughes Room, Room 103, of the Hughes Fine Arts Center, which is on campus and open to the public.

“The exhibit shows Native people as contemporary human beings, not relics of the past, and I think it’s important to see us as living, breathing, contributing members of society,” Brown said.

The exhibit was brought to life through the efforts of UND Art Collections. Also, students in the UND Art & Design Department’s museum practicum class assisted with the exhibit by measuring the gallery space and drafting a layout for the installation.

“We hope that visitors will encounter American Indian leaders through this exhibition and, whatever their own backgrounds may be, feel a sense of pride for these distinguished alumni who have worked selflessly to help their communities,” said Nathan Rees, UND Art Collections coordinator of exhibitions.

The following is a list of featured American Indian UND alumni in the exhibit:

Amber Finley:

Finley is from Mandaree, N.D., and is a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara nation and the Prairie Chicken clan. She is a mentor for several diversity-based organizations and helped establish the Northstar Council.

Shannon D. Fox:

Fox is from White Shield, N.D., and is a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara nation and the Santee Sioux tribe. He has opened his own company White Pipe, established a graphic arts program at Fort Berthold Community College and teaches different forms of art ranging from digital imaging to traditional native arts and crafts.

Sara Jumping Eagle:

Dr. Jumping Eagle is from Kyle, S.D., and is a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe. She has worked in pediatrics in Colorado and North Dakota, and specializes in adolescent medicine, reproductive health, behavioral health and the prevention of high-risk behaviors among youth.

Arlene Krulish and Arliss Krulish:

Arlene and Arliss are twin sisters who were raised in Fort Totten, N.D., and are members of the Spirit Lake Nation. They have dedicated themselves to the service of others through their careers in healthcare on the Spirit Lake Reservation.

Melvin Monette:

Monette lives in Albuquerque, and is a member of the Turtle Mountain band of Chippewa Indians. He is a strong proponent of “Cradle to Spirit” learning and is committed to improving life throughout American Indian communities through secondary education programs and facilitating national discussions about critical issues.

Robert Shepherd:

Shepherd lives in Denver, and is a member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe. He has served as the chairman for his tribe and for the Great Sioux Nation of South Dakota, secretary of the National Congress of American Indians, and is now the Native American Tribal Relations Officer for Monarch America, Inc.

Laurel Vermillion:

Vermillion is from Fort Yates, and is a member of the Hunkpapa-Lakota tribe. She taught elementary school at the Fort Yates Bureau of Indian Affairs School, was the principal at the Marty Indian School, held multiple administrative positions at Sitting Bull College and is now the president of Sitting Bull College. She also serves on numerous non-profit and community service groups.

Amy Halvorson University & Public Affairs writer

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