It Takes a Tribe

A tiny Indian community struggles to educate its young

Doka graduated in 1960 with a degree in animal science.

Doka was part of an era in which sheer toughness got kids through school. But he was unusual. He is the only member of the tribe ever to graduate from the University of Arizona. Doka's toughness illustrated the challenge facing the tribe. Increased expenditures on young kids in grade school was only one part of the problem. Spending large sums of money has not provided a quick or easy solution to the tribe's poor educational record off the reservation.

Only about 100 students can attend the tribal elementary school aimed at providing them with the best possible start in school.

Arianna Dorchester, 5, a graduate of the Fort McDowell kindergarten class, is the pride of her mother, Jessica.
Erik Guzowski
Arianna Dorchester, 5, a graduate of the Fort McDowell kindergarten class, is the pride of her mother, Jessica.
Arianna in her cap and gown.
Erik Guzowski
Arianna in her cap and gown.

Off reservation, Fort McDowell's students faced the same obstacles as any Indian student.

In Arizona, Indians have the worst dropout rate of any ethnic group in state universities. The overwhelming culture shock of leaving home, trying to adapt to new rules and expectations unaccustomed, managing their scholarship money, and trying to balance their school obligations with their stronger responsibilities to their families back home are problems most Indian students find insurmountable.

And, statistics reveal, Indian students are not likely to be academically prepared for college. They hold the worst dropout rate in Arizona's public schools and score the lowest on standardized tests than any other ethnic group.

Fort McDowell leaders realized they needed to give something other than money to their students to help them get to college and succeed once they get there.

But what?

The tribe decided to make everyone from the 3-year-olds to the elders proud to be a Fort McDowell Yavapai.

Tribal leaders concluded that the problem was that Fort McDowell children had no sense of identity, nothing to sustain them once they left their families on the reservation and went off to school.

Adults and elders needed to learn more about their own history so they can not only be proud of their heritage but pass their customs and values on to their children.

Unfortunately, many of the community members don't really know what being a Fort McDowell Yavapai means.

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