The Southern Ute Indian Tribe has invested a great deal over the years to help its students succeed in education — but how do members of the Tribal Council define success?
For many of them, defining success is not a matter of setting benchmarks and measuring which students cross the finish line. Instead, it’s a process of evaluating each student holistically. If there are goals to be met, most said, they should be set by the student.
The Drum sat down individually with six of the council’s seven members to discuss their personal feelings on the matter.
“It’s not that black and white. When you look at individuals, every individual student will want to have a different course they take in life,” Council Lady Pathimi GoodTracks said. “I think we sometimes tend to look at success narrowly, and we’ve got to look at all the other aspects of being a successful person.”
Financial success, for example, is one metric, GoodTracks said. But it’s certainly not the only one.
“Money isn’t everything in life,” she said. “Are you grounded spiritually? What about your home life: Is that successful?”
Education encompasses much more than just classes taken during the school day, GoodTracks said. Students should also receive cultural, financial and life skills training to complement academia.
“In doing that, our students will be more prepared in life and be more prepared to be successful,” she said.
Vice Chairman James M. Olguin said he hopes the tribe is able to provide its youth with what he called “E-4”: education, exposure to the real world, employment and enlightenment. Beyond that, defining success is up to the student, he said.
“All we can really say is we’ve provided opportunities,” he said. “The students themselves, they should be measuring success.”
Still, from his perspective, one obvious victory occurs when an educated tribal member returns to the Southern Ute Reservation and is hired by the tribe.
“That’s a combination of success between the students and the tribe,” he said.
Councilman Aaron V. Torres suggested two ways to measure educational success: happiness and self-sufficiency.
“They’re being successful at their job, they’re being successful raising their families, being a good person,” Torres said. “Those to me are the traits of a successful person.”
For Councilman Alex S. Cloud, settling on one definition of success in education is difficult — but a thirst for lifelong learning is one indicator.
“You learn something new every day,” Cloud said. “Living your life and being responsible and learning new things can define success.”
Because each student possesses a different mix of talents and interests, Cloud said, perhaps the best broad definition is this: “We want our students to reach the highest potential that they can achieve. That’s where all these programs need to lead up to.”’
Council Lady Ramona Y. Eagle said an education has been successful when the student has become internally motivated to overcome obstacles and achieve goals.
“Whether it’s going to college, getting a degree, going into that field,” she said, “success has different definitions for a Native American.”
For his part, Chairman Jimmy R. Newton Jr., success can be measured by the impact one makes down the road.
“Where there’s a positive impact on the individual’s life, family, career, organization, tribe, surroundings, whatever — if there’s a positive impact … something they’ve achieved,” he said.
Newton said the ability to have an impact depends not just on academic mastery, but on a host of other skills, including social skills, that should be learned first at home.
“The social and the life skills … can impact the most, positive or negative,” he said. “Culturally and traditionally, it starts inside the house and it’s not really a government or tribal thing.”
He urged tribal members to “live for knowledge” and, once a student’s desired education level is obtained, to be patient when seeking work.
“A lot of times we have bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate [graduates] coming out to the workforce and the tribe — which is great — but understand director positions and supervisor and manager positions don’t happen on entry levels,” he said. “[Graduates must] continue, just like school, to work their way up.”
Recognize there are also other ways to support the tribe, Newton said, such as serving on boards or teaching community classes.
Councilman Howard D. Richards Sr. was on medical leave and unavailable for interview.