WHEN CARLY BAD HEART BULL and her twin sister, Kate, were in their mid 20s, they were considered statistics. Both had dropped out of school before they turned 16, a common problem that plagues Native
American students, and faced a life with limited career options.
“Growing up all over, we had a difficult time in school,” said Bad Heart Bull. “I read all the time and got
good grades, but as Native students, we felt pretty invisible in the school system. We were usually the only
Native students in our classes, and our people weren’t talked about. We didn’t feel like we mattered because
our heritage was not discussed.”
That heritage, steeped in Dakota traditions, proved
to be a powerful calling card, one that led both sisters
from the Southwest to their native homeland. Both
went back to school, earning advanced degrees, and
now are working to change the fortunes of Native
Americans in Minnesota and North and South Dakota.
Carly, who worked full time while earning her
associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, went to law school
at the University of Minnesota in large part due to the
Minority Corporate Counsel Association’s LMJ Scholarship. She was one of 18 recipients in the 2008 class,
the fourth such group to receive the honor.
“I decided that I really wanted to serve my people,
and I knew the only way to do that in the best way possible was to go to school and get an education,” said Bad
Heart Bull, now the Native Nations Activities Manager
for the St. Paul-based Bush Foundation, a philanthropic
organization. “I definitely went the non-traditional
route to get here, but I feel very fortunate that I get to
do this work.”
A Non-Linear Path to Law School
Given their family’s background and history, the fact
that Carly and Kate Beane decided to drop out of high
school before their 16th birthday must have come as a
shock to their parents. But it also points to the complicated path that many Native Americans have faced for
more than 150 years.
The girls spent their childhood in Arizona and
Nebraska, where their father Syd ran citywide Indian Centers in Phoenix and Lincoln and their mother taught school. Their ancestors were exiled from
Minnesota to South Dakota after the bloody Dakota
War of 1862; Syd’s great-uncle, Charles Eastman, later
helped found the Boy Scouts of America and worked to
improve the lives of Native American youth through his
writing and speeches.
“I always knew I was Native, but we grew up in
urban Native, pan-Indian communities,” said Carly,
who took her husband’s last name (Bad Heart Bull)
after they married. “We would spend our summers on
the reservation, and go to ceremonies now and then,
but we didn’t grow up speaking the Dakota language.
Something was always missing.”
After dropping out, Bad Heart Bull worked in
numerous low to mid-paying jobs in the San Francisco
area. She enrolled in a community college program
designed for working adults, then decided to return to
Minnesota so she could learn more about her heritage.
“I wanted to study the language, to learn the songs
and stories, and somehow find a way to become reconnected to my roots,” she said. “When I started to
do that, I found a better understanding of who I am as
a Dakota woman and as a human being. As I became
more connected, I started volunteering in my community and realized I needed to go back to school.”
EIGHT YEARS AFTER RECEIVING THE LMJ
Finding the Class
By GLENN COOK