Friday, March 23, 2018

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont, talks with an audience member following his speech on Tuesday at Little Big Horn College in Crow Agency.An infant sits in the audience as Sen. Tester speaks on the subject of education.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester stops by LBHC, answers student questions

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. arrived at Little Big Horn College in Crow Agency late Tuesday morning to speak with an estimated 80 students, faculty and residents on subjects ranging from education, to government, to crime on the Crow Reservation.
For the 275 students attending the college, Tester said, educators must acquire research dollars and advocate for the programs they wish to use, so they can move toward student and faculty goals. Proper education, he said, is a tool through which Crow Country can become self-sufficient.
Dr. David Yarlott, president of the college, said Tester “has been a huge supporter of our initiatives” in terms of pushing for equitable funding when compared to other colleges across the state. His efforts, Yarlott said, help keep “tribal colleges on the horizon for other members.”
“I think self-determination and self-sufficiency is always going to be on our minds,” Yarlott said. “It’s going to come in increments; it’s not going to happen overnight.”
The issue of American Indian education, Yarlott said, needs to be seen through a bipartisan lens – not as a Democratic issue or a Republican issue, but a “people issue.” A college education, he said, makes people more valuable to employers and opens up new options.
In Tester’s own life, the senator said, he was taught how to play the trumpet by a high school music teacher who “wasn’t a master of the issue…[but] he knew how important it was and was very energetic.” According to Tester, the teacher encouraged him to get a music degree from the University of Great Falls – renamed the University of Providence in July.
“Around Christmas time, he got a hold of me and said, ‘I know you intend on going to Helena to study diesel mechanics, but you’re a pretty decent trumpet player. Have you thought about going to school and getting a degree in music?’” he recalled. When Tester declined, his teacher told him, “You underestimate yourself.”
Had he pursued diesel mechanics, Tester continued, “I probably wouldn’t have married the woman I love, wouldn’t have the kids I love, wouldn’t have the grandkids I love, the story goes on and on and on…I probably wouldn’t be in the U.S. Senate.”
“I think that your future is bright…you’ve got some of the best administrators in the country when it comes to tribal colleges,” Tester told the audience. “But I think you need to be crystal clear on where you are and where you want to go.”
Tillie Stewart, a sophomore student, was one of the people to ask a question of Tester – in her case, she wanted to know if there were any initiatives by the Senate to curb addictions to methamphetamine and opiates. These drugs, she said, “[contribute] to the high crime rate on the reservation.”
An estimated one-fourth of felony cases in Big Horn County involve methamphetamine and the drug contributed to the Aug. 4 triple homicide of three Crow tribal members in Lodge Grass.
Grants are available in the realm of drug treatment, Tester said, but – as with many issues – the first step to keeping people away from drugs is education.
“If you want to complicate your life, if you want to make it a lot harder than it has to be, just get involved in drugs,” Tester said. “If you want to simplify your life, get the hell away from them.”
Stewart came away from the talk believing that, in regards to the drug problem, “it falls more on us to solve it for ourselves” through communication and community outreach.
“Some of us might not even know what problems we’re facing because it is everyday life,” she said. “I think we need to be more vocal.”
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