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Lab liaisons to Indian nations.

Nicholas Black Elk never lived to see his vision as a 9-year-old boy come to pass. An Oglala Sioux, he saw instead "my nation's" hoop broken and scattered" after the massacre of his people at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, December 29, 1890. Black Elk was a medicine man - and a great one by historical accounts. A medicine man is a spiritual leader of his tribe who heals by treating body, mind, and spirit.

Medicine men are, of course. no longer much in demand as Western medicine has become entrenched on reservations across the country.

So Mike Colombe plans to be a doctor. Alyssa Martinez - a great-granddaughter of Nicholas Black Elk - has pretty much decided on nursing. And Ellie Giron wants to be a medical technologist. They are fl= Native Ameiican students at the University of North Dakota (UND) currently working, pan time at the ARS Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center under a special program begun in the fall of 1988.

"I always wanted to be a doctor." says Colombe. But. he adds, "I would have loved to be a medicine man. It's more traditional. It's not only the way our people have dealt with sickness... the medicine man was the religious leader of the tribe."

Colombe, who is one-half Sioux and one-half French. hails from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, where Kevin Costner recruited many actors and extras for his Academy Award-winning movie Dances With Wolves."

In fact, one local actress also translated the movie script into Lakota-colombe's native tongue. She teaches the language at the college on his reservation. he says. which "is bigger than Rhode Island and Connecticut together."

Colombe began working, with Efic Uthus at the ARS center about a year ago after Martinez left the position to spend more time on her studies.

A sophomore majoring,, in chemistry. Colombe works 2 to 3 hours each weekday helping to run chemical assays for the group's experiments on elements such as arsenic, nickel. and silicon that may be essential in trace amounts. He's learning, to analyze for these metals as well as for cholesterol, triglycerides, and proteins. He says Uthus trains him to operate an array of instruments and work the calculations.

I think I'd do it just for the experience and knowledge of it all." Colombe, says. "But it's nice to et paid on top of that, too." In fact, the pay - at a GS 1 rate - is about $ 1.00 per hour more than the minimum wage paid to most UND students.

The idea to hire Native American student its biological laboratory aides was triggered by an article in a supermarket throwaway, says Phyllis Johnson, a research leader at the center until October.

According to the article. the university has one of the largest enrollments and the highest graduation rate of Native Americans in the country. It struck her: here was a workable answer to the center's support staff need.

Working with ARS personnel specialist Johnson to three new positions for students on 180-hour appointments, which can be renewed until they graduate. About 30 students responded for the three slots. she says. and now when one opens up, the students do the advertising through their own grapevine.

Uthus says he "jumped on the opportunity to get qualified help. It's tough even to get temporary help." Altogether, seven students have been or are currently in the program.

Its purpose is to "steer students in the direction of science, so we can hire them when they finish their degrees," explains Johnson, who moved to Albany, California. last fall to take over as associate director of ARS' Pacific West Area. So far. she says. "we've interested one student in pursuing a research career when she hadn't thought that was what she wanted to do."

No one has to coax Ellie Giron. "My main goal is to into research," says the newest student employee. "I'm one of those people who like to dig deep." Giron, a sophomore. was delighted to hear of an opening in Johnson's lab last August. Even though Johnson has left, the work goes on with a lot of blood, sweat, and urine - but no tears. Lab staff analyze thousands of samples from Volunters who consume special diets and donate their body fluids in studies to establish how much zinc, copper, or manganese we humans really need to consume.

Among her many duties. Giron prefers making filaments. She meticulously adds a drop of extracts of blood serum, sweat, or urine to the flat side of a filament "that looks like a staple" and puts it on the rotating head of a mass spectrometer for analysis.

"The pay is really good and so is the experience," says Giron who especially likes working with four medical technologist - her major field of study. She also likes the peace and quiet of lab work. "There's more concentration. You can get more into your work."

Her home is in Belcourt, North Dakota, on the Turtle Mountain Reservation - "one of the largest in North Dakota," she says. She is one-quarter Chippewa; the rest of her ancestry is Mexican and French Canadian.

In the top 10 percent of her high-school class, Giron attends the university on an Indian Health Service (IHS) Scholarship, which provides tuition, books, travel money, and a stipend for living expenses. When she completes the 5-year med tech program, she will spend 4 years in an IHS hospital to fulfill her obligation before she can attain her goal of researcher.

Like most of the Native Americans who have worked at the center, Giron is in the university's INMED Indians into Medicine) program, which assists students interested in pursuing a health-related career with curriculum advice, scholarship applications, and tutoring, if needed. She serves as secretary of INMED this year.

Alyssa Martinez is the veteran Native American employee at the ARS center. In fact, Martinez, now a senior, helped at the center during an INMED-sponsored summer program for incoming freshmen, even before the Native American program began.

She worked in Uthus's lab then, and returned there in the fall of 1988, where she stayed until the end of 1990.

I missed working here. I couldn't see myself working any place else," she says. So she returned again last fall to fill an opening,, in Phil Reeves' lab. "You can incorporate what you learn in school at work and vice versa," she notes.

She is learning to reculture endothelial cells - which normally line blood vessels-and prepare the medium that bathes and nourishes them. The cultures allow Reeves and his coworkers to study how zinc deficiency lowers blood pressure in animals. "We may be able to use this knowledge to help regulate blood pressure in humans," Reeves says.

Martinez, who also has an IHS scholarship, is studying, nursing but may still switch to medical technology, "so I can go into research." Whatever she chooses, she ultimately wants to return to her own reservation to work. "A lot of people who come from reservations see the problems and want to do something," she says. "We're kind of |save the world' people."

Her home is Cannonball, North Dakota, on the Standing Rock Reservation, which extends across the border into South Dakota. But her local school was weak in the sciences, she says, so she finished high school in Wyoming's Wind River Reservation - home of Arapaho and Shoshoni tribes - where an aunt and uncle five. Her native tongue, Dakota, is very similar to Colombe's Lakota, she says.

In addition to her studies and part-time job, Martinez serves on the boards of two Native American organizations on campus. As vice president of the Indian Association, she says she gets to put on the "big pow wow" next month, in which Indian students share their cultures with others by performing, native dances. And as vice president of the UND chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, she traveled to Albuquerque last November for her third national conference.

Martinez is one-half Sioux, one-quarter Crow, and one-quarter other," which does not include any Spanish ancestry in spite of her surmame, she says. That came from a man who adopted her grandfather - whose real father was Nicholas Black Elk, the medicine man.

"My grandma used to tell me about their Indian medicines. And I thought it would be so interesting to do research combining traditional and modem medicine," says Martinez. She and a friend share a private dream for such a research center some day.
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Title Annotation:college education of Native American students
Author:McBride, Judy
Publication:Agricultural Research
Date:Apr 1, 1992
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