This month we visited with Dion Stump, an enrolled member of the Chippewa Cree Tribe. Dion is a dedicated advocate and leader who has used her experiences to inspire and uplift others. As the Office Manager for Western Native Voice’s Great Falls office, a full-time student at Montana State University-Northern, and an advocate for youth in foster homes, Dion balances her professional responsibilities with her studies in Criminal Justice.

Please start with your background, tribe, where you grew up, family, schools attended, what you are currently doing now, etc:

My name is Dion Stump. I am an enrolled member of the Chippewa Cree tribe in Rocky Boy, Montana. I grew up in Great Falls and Rocky Boy. I grew up in the foster care system and didn’t have much stability in my childhood. I went to many different schools but ultimately graduated from Great Falls High School a semester early. I earned my Associate’s degree from Great Falls College MSU and am currently a student at Montana State University-Northern.  I have two semesters of school remaining before I earn my Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice. I am working full-time as the Office Manager for Western Native Voice and attending school full-time. In addition, I continue to raise my two younger brothers, whom I adopted when I turned 20. 

What motivated you to pursue your current career or path?

One thing I missed in my life was having a positive role model. I aspire to be an example for children who face similar challenges. I want to inspire them and demonstrate that if I can succeed, they can, too. My motivation to pursue my current career path stems from the desire to be a role model for youth who share my background. I aim to be the person I needed when I was younger.

What does community organizing mean to you?

Community organizing means that individuals with shared interests in improving their community come together to find solutions to common issues.

Dion Stump after she adopted her brothers.

How can young people use creativity to organize and change their communities?

Young people can use creativity to organize and change their communities through technology and social media platforms. We are more connected than ever. These platforms can be great tools for creating change in our communities.

Can you share a pivotal moment or experience that shaped your journey?

A pivotal moment in my journey was when I got the chance to attend a summer camp for foster youth. This camp was special to me because it was filled with people who genuinely cared for kids like me. For the first time, peers with similar experiences surrounded me, which inspired me to become an advocate for myself and others who need someone to speak on their behalf.

What challenges did you face along the way, and how did you overcome them?

I have faced numerous challenges on my journey to where I am today, with the biggest being my time in the foster care system. Statistically, foster children often struggle to overcome the obstacles they face. Despite these odds, I wanted to prove that kids like me can succeed.

Who were your role models or sources of inspiration when you were younger?

Role models were scarce when I was younger, but I found inspiration from various people I encountered in the foster care system. One person, in particular, significantly impacted my life—she works with Kairos Youth Services. She demonstrated unwavering support, assuring me that she would always be on my side no matter my path. She also showed me that nothing is impossible if I put my mind to it. Alongside her is a group of strong, resilient women who have consistently shown me compassion and support.

I want to inspire and demonstrate to children facing similar challenges that if I can succeed, they can too.

Dion preparing for graduation.

What advice would you give a young person unsure about their future career or goals?

Showing up and doing the work is half the battle.  Even when times are difficult, and it seems the world is against you, you keep taking steps forward.  

How do you stay motivated and driven, even when faced with setbacks?

When I encounter setbacks, I stay motivated by stepping back to practice self-care. Self-care is crucial, especially when life becomes overwhelming. I have to take care of myself to continue caring for others.  

Can you share an example of when you had to step out of your comfort zone? What did you learn from that experience?

An example of stepping out of my comfort zone was when I began my journey of doing foster care advocacy.  I wanted to give a voice to myself and others who lack the opportunity to be heard. Through this experience, I boosted my self-confidence and learned the importance of speaking up for social change.

What skills or qualities are most important for young people to develop to succeed in their chosen paths?

Leadership, self-awareness, integrity, and self confidence. 

Dion accepts an award for Youth Achievement of the Year.

How do you balance personal passions and professional responsibilities in your life?

I balance personal and professional responsibilities by maintaining a schedule. This approach helps me keep track of everything simultaneously and reduces feelings of overwhelm.

In your opinion, what are the most pressing challenges or opportunities for young people today?

One approach I use to advance in my field is to inquire and remain receptive to acquiring new knowledge. Among the challenges confronting young people today is the challenge of navigating social media and peer pressure. There’s often pressure to conform to unrealistic standards online, leading individuals to portray themselves differently than who they truly are in order to keep up with social media trends.  

Social media can impact mental health, especially when young people compare their lives to the idealized representations of others, which often do not reflect reality.

How do you envision the future, and what role do young people play in shaping it?

When I envision the future, I hope I will be someone young people can count on. I want to be the person I wish I had growing up. I also want to inspire and teach others. 

Can you share advice or a mantra that has guided you throughout your journey?

Something that has guided me through my journey is letting go of the past, moving forward, and forgiving those who did wrong by you. Don’t forgive them for them but for yourself.

Dion and her partner receive their first house through Habitat for Humanity.

What projects or initiatives are you currently working on that could inspire or involve young people?

I involve myself in as many projects as possible. A few projects I have been a part of would be the lived experience panel, a foster parent panel, and various other panels and workshops that involve inspiring youth and bringing change to the foster care system. I was also a part of JROTC in high school, which involved serving the community through various volunteering opportunities. I am also a family partner with Habitat for Humanity in Great Falls. My family and I built our own house and helped build homes for others. We have also spoken at Habitat for Humanity events. 

How can young individuals get involved in causes or fields they’re passionate about, even if they feel like they’re just starting?

Young people can get involved in causes they are passionate about by researching and reaching out to different organizations. 

In your experience, how has mentorship or guidance from others contributed to your success?

Mentorship from others has greatly contributed to my success because, without help, I wouldn’t have had the guidance and support I needed to succeed. We all need someone we can count on, who always answers the phone and truly cares about the outcome.

What is one thing you wish you had known or done differently when you were younger?

Life plays out as it should. I wouldn’t have done anything differently. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t had all of the experiences I have had, the good and the bad.

Even when times are difficult, and it seems the world is against you, you keep taking steps forward.

Dion walks the stage to accept her Associate’s Degree.

How can young people balance their ambitions with self-care and a healthy lifestyle?

Young people can balance their ambitions with self-care and a healthy lifestyle by incorporating schedules, regular exercise, eating well, and being involved in a community where they feel connected.

What message would you like to convey to young individuals facing self-doubt or uncertainty about their potential?

A message that I would send to young individuals facing self-doubt is that no matter what attempt they make, even if it is a failed attempt, they should be proud of themselves for making the effort. The only way we fail is when we never try at all. 

Is there a story or lesson from your journey that you’d like to share to inspire young people?

The narrative of my journey illustrates that regardless of one’s background or life circumstances, anyone can overcome adversity and achieve their goals.

What is one change you would like to happen in your hometown community?

One thing I would like to change in my hometown community is more recognition for foster youth. By this, I mean more programs or funding. These programs are necessary for foster youth to receive the assistance they need to succeed.

Dion and her siblings at the Hard Rock Cafe.