Through Our Eyes: Narratives of Three Student Volunteers at Aaniiih Nakoda College

Volume 28, No. 1 - Fall 2016
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AANIIIH NAKODA COLLEGEMany adults pursue college degrees with high hopes of attaining a job and financial stability. However, visualize being not only a full-time college student but also a parent, a rancher, and most importantly, an American Indian. Many students enrolled in higher education in the United States have the luxury of focusing their time on their studies, but not students at tribal colleges and universities (TCUs). Despite overwhelming familial responsibilities, work obligations, and academic demands, TCU students embrace the passion for serving their community as volunteers. Shay Snider, Jacob Doney, and Kaye Brown are honors students at Aaniiih Nakoda College (ANC) who serve in the student senate and in the Phi Theta Kappa honor society. While they face the common challenges of college, they also volunteer as a way to shape their characters and their future.



From coordinating ANC’s student art contest to organizing food drives, Shay Snider puts the well-being of his community front and center.

Shay Snider, who is part Oglala Lakota and part Assiniboine, is working towards an environmental science degree and will transfer to the University of Montana. His goal is to become a veterinarian, but he is also a talented archer, winning first place at the 2016 American Indian Higher Education Consortium’s (AIHEC’s) men’s archery competition. Snider embraces a wide range of passions, including a love for art. “At a young age, I always had the joy of creating art, such as graphite pencil drawings. Learning how to draw by drawing and having my dad, Vince Bell, who is an idol artist who I look up to, critique my work,” he says. Snider coordinated the art contest during the 2015 ANC Spring Fling, a community- focused event organized by the ANC student senate. Most programs today concentrate primarily on STEM education; however, Snider serves as the quintessential example of how people can embrace skills in both the arts and sciences.

Snider has also been active in supporting food drives in the past. He volunteered to go door-to-door to collect food donations when he was in high school and was touched by the generosity of his local community. “The community was extremely helpful. I remember very few people who didn’t donate food. I was not nervous. The community had an excellent vibe where you felt welcome to knock on their door,” he recalls. Volunteer work involves a reciprocal knowledge-building relationship between the volunteers and the people. In this case, Snider’s work taught him about the benevolence of his community. As a volunteer, he needs others’ support to complete his tasks. His work in the food drive has taught him the importance of cooperation.

“My philosophy is like the penny jars you see at gas stations. If you take a penny, then give a penny.”

Jacob Doney (Assiniboine) is a non-traditional student who has returned to college after 22 years in the workforce, bringing with him a great deal of real-world, practical experience. As a volunteer who works with kids, Doney takes the role of a father figure. He coaches a children’s bowling team on Sundays, and he takes kids in the community on fishing trips. “A lot of kids don’t have a big brother or father figure in their life, so I just like to take them and show them stuff that they don’t normally get to do all the time,” he says. As an active member in many school activities, Doney is a strong role model for children and other students. “I think there’s a few kids that look up to me, I guess. I’ve been around and seen a lot of things. I’ve been through a lot, so I can really help out with kids and stuff like that,” he observes. Offering guidance to other people’s children is truly a rare trait, making Doney a prized treasure in his community. He approaches volunteerism with a sense of collective responsibility and humble duty, emphasizing his deep connection to his people.

Doney’s home is located on a major highway to southern Montana—a stretch of road littered with trash and refuse. In an effort to instill a positive impression of his community, Doney leads a neighborhood group that meets periodically to clean up the highway. Through his efforts, Doney exhibits a selfless philosophy that is reflected in his own definition of volunteers: “Probably the best kind of people you can find because they give up their own time and money or whatever that they have for everybody else’s benefit.”


Kaye Brown has taken the knowledge she’s gained as an allied health major and shared it with the local community, spreading the word about the importance of healthy habits.

As an allied health major, most of Kaye Brown’s passions revolve around health. And as a young Assiniboine mother, her efforts also focus on children. Brown serves on the local Head Start parent committee that meets once a month to conduct fundraisers. “These fundraisers are to purchase presents for all of the Head Start children, as well as decorations for the Head Start graduation ceremony,” she explains. “Last year, every graduating student received a bike, a kid’s pool, and a sweater.” Fundraising entails a great deal of time and work, but Brown appreciates that these gifts make children content—without such efforts, these underprivileged children would not have access to many of the things that other kids take for granted. As a volunteer, she bestows the same compassion she has for her own children on those in her community.

Brown also serves on the cultural diversity subcommittee for the future nursing program at ANC and works in variety of community health outreach projects. Her mom and dad inspire her: “My parents have the biggest hearts. It showed with the numerous kids we would take in,” she says. “My philosophy is like the penny jars you see at gas stations. If you take a penny, then give a penny.” Volunteerism materializes as a value taught and nourished within the family unit, indicating that a volunteer spirit often originates at home.


Based on their career interests and individual experiences, Doney, Snider, and Brown have honed their volunteer efforts. Snider and Brown are particularly interested in doing more work in health promotion. Snider has partaken in fundraising activities to promote breast cancer awareness. “The student body of Phi Theta Kappa would make breast cancer awareness buttons and sell them to the community…even getting creative and making cakes to sell,” he explains. “The money would then be donated to a breast cancer hospital.” This project promotes breast cancer education and awareness while raising money for treatment. Snider says that he would like to see other organizations, such as the student senate, become more involved in these projects to support the health needs of his community.


Jacob Doney serves as a father figure for many kids in his community. One day he hopes to build playgrounds and basketball courts where at-risk kids can be safe and have fun.

Brown likewise shared similar interests. “We need to push—just health things in general—exercise, vaccinations, brushing your teeth, being sure to wash your hands, cover your mouth, things like that—public health,” she maintains. After her work in promoting dental health for young children that won her second place in the 2016 AIHEC science poster competition, Brown realized that people lacked knowledge about everyday healthcare. For her work on a National Institutes of Health project on oral hygiene, she enjoyed going door-to-door, discussing health concerns and information with her community. The experience has inspired her to take part in more health promotion volunteer projects for ANC in the future. Snider and Brown believe that health-focused volunteerism can improve health outcomes in their community.

“The way I was raised its to help others if they need it. Life is a tough road, and sometimes, everyone needs a little help.”

Doney, on the other hand, is satisfied with the current volunteer projects offered at his college, such as the Spring Fling. However, he also seeks to improve teamwork in volunteer projects. He understands the importance of team operations in successful projects, but sometimes establishing a team proves challenging. “If you say that you’re going to be there, you should be there,” he asserts. “I always try to be somewhere when I promise to be. If someone needs help—if I say I’m going to help—I will.” Volunteer projects are timeconsuming, so teamwork is essential. But finding enough volunteers is always a problem. Doney therefore seeks ways to improve participation so that efforts are more successful. “My word is my bond. What kind of person would I be if I promised something to you and then backed out on you?” he observes. Through Doney’s values of dependability he is an enduring role model for other students, and perhaps his values will inspire them to become more involved in volunteer work.


Volunteerism touches people who depend on others. “The way I was raised is to help others if they need it,” says Snider. “Life is a tough road, and sometimes, everyone needs a little help. There is a feeling that I cannot describe when you take time out of your busy day to volunteer . . . a good vibe running through your veins knowing that you helped someone have a good day.” Snider learned from his parents, and himself, that generosity and self-sacrifice cannot be disregarded simply because of time constraints. People must make time for others and remember that community is the priority. Being a volunteer helps remind Snider who he is and who he wants to be in the future. His work has proven to be a precious stone for his people.

Brown acknowledges that volunteerism has helped her develop the communication skills needed for nursing. “It’s helped my personality. It’s helped me talk to people. It’s helped me be comfortable with interactions with people,” she says. “It kind of gives me hope for humanity because there are people who are nice and thankful for what you are doing.” As a self-proclaimed introvert, Brown appreciates that volunteerism has taught her to communicate with others. Like Snider, she has learned that people support her work. She aims to continue to offer volunteer health services as part of her professional career. “I’m going for a nursing degree so that I can be in the public health side of nursing, and they do so many events throughout the year—going to school and putting fluoride on teeth or having fun runs or diabetes awareness. I’m really interested in doing that in the future,” she explains. Brown plans to use her future professional training to serve her community, which illustrates that she also assumes a collective responsibility towards her people. She is a positive role model for her peers and possesses the qualities of a life-long volunteer.

Small actions lead to significant changes, and power lies in the work of many.

Doney seeks to become a Certified Public Accountant. He strives for a higher income not just for his family, but for his community. He aspires to use his future income to build community projects. “I would like to build good playgrounds, basketball courts—just places where our youth can go and play while feeling safe,” he says. Doney sees children as assets that can foster a positive and healthy community. Thus his future goals continue to revolve around nurturing children. As a passionate, exemplary student, he embodies the role model that many children need. Volunteerism has nurtured him to become the man he wants to be: “I believe that volunteer work has prepared me for the future by teaching me patience, humility, and a strong sense of self-awareness. I am only one man, but enough people who feel as I do can move the world.” Doney asserts that small actions lead to significant changes and that power lies in the work of many. This philosophy resonates with his desire to encourage others to become volunteers to continue the cause. Snider, Doney, and Brown prove that success is not earned alone. As volunteers, they evolved into stronger people who are prepared to face the challenges of work and life. Every community needs role models who surmount obstacles while never faltering in investing time to improve the lives of their fellow people. These three tribal college students teach us that volunteer work coincides with individual passion and interest. Avolunteer project exists for everyone. By seeking out such projects and opportunities, perhaps we can all move the world.

Kerri Patrick Wertz, Ph.D., teaches communications at Aaniiih Nakoda College.

  • Dana Petersen

    a comment was made by Dana.

    • Dana Petersen

      This is my reply.

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