Keeping American Indian traditions vibrant and helping Indian youths is an ongoing mission in the Putnam City School District.
Through activities and programs, the Indian Education Department reaches out to nearly 1,000 students, which is 5.4 percent of the district's 19,296 enrollment.
Director George Shields Jr. said the effort has been under way for nearly 40 years. He has spent 17 years with the program.
Shields said national statistics show American Indian students face challenges including low grades, poor attendance and low self-esteem. That's where he hopes to make a difference.
“We talk to students, parents and teachers to find out ways to help our at-risk students become successful and productive students,” said Shields, an American Indian.
Federal grants help pay for counseling, tutoring, helping students with supplies and encouraging them to attend college.
Shields said one Putnam City graduate is now a college professor, and is just one of many success stories.
“We don't take credit for these achievements. We are just proud to have maybe played a small part in a student's development,” he said.
Relating to others
American Indian clubs are established at Putnam City and Putnam City West high schools. Membership is open to anyone, but emphasis is placed on American Indian culture.
“For some students, these clubs provide a place to identify with their Native American heritage, and for others it's just a fun club to be in,” Shields said.
Celo Keith, a senior at Putnam City High School who has been accepted to Oklahoma State University, appreciates the club.
“You get to meet new people — people you can relate to,” he said. He and his twin sister, Sydney, are Cheyenne-Arapaho.
Sydney Keith also has been accepted to OSU and attends the meetings held once a month.
“We also have various activities and sometimes speakers,” she said. “The last speaker talked about motivation and never giving up.”
Shields put the meetings into perspective.
“We sponsor these events so our students can see themselves beyond public school and to realize that it's OK to be Native American,” Shields said.
Earlier this year, the meeting featured a presentation by the Grey Snow Eagle House, an eagle rescue program sponsored by the Iowa tribe. The eagle is traditionally revered in American Indian culture. The rescue program assists injured eagles and reintroduces them to the wild.
In May, the program concludes for the school year with a powwow, a traditional gathering with dances that celebrate the culture. It's held at the Putnam City High School gymnasium and is open to all students and parents.
The lead female dancer this year will be Jessica Hulbutta, a junior at Putnam City High School who is Cheyenne and Seminole.
“It's quite an honor for me,” she said. “This helps a lot with keeping alive the heritage.”
And that is key for the program, as well as the students.
“That is something I don't want to lose,” Keith said.
When students in the program give presentations across the district, it often includes some of them dancing in regalia.
“This benefits all students to realize what a rich past our state has at its disposal,” Shields said. “And it makes Native American students feel proud to know that their heritage has a place in their schools.”
This benefits all students to realize what a rich past our state has at its disposal. And it makes Native American students feel proud to know that their heritage has a place in their schools.”
George Shields Jr.,
Director of Indian Education Department