Journey of resilience: celebrating heritage on the field.
This month we visited with Myltin Bighorn, an enrolled member of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribe. Myltin is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Sport Management at KU.
Please start with your background, tribe, where you grew up, family, schools attended, what you are currently doing now, etc:
Háu Mitákuyepi, Aŋpétu Wašté yuhá. Dakȟóta čhážepi kiŋ Canku kiŋ Kaga. Wašíču čhážepi kiŋ Myltin Bighorn. Waȟčíŋča Wákpa Dakȟóta Oyáte ed wathí, phidámayayedo. Good day, my name is Myltin Bighorn, and I am from the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribe in the state of Montana. I was born and raised in Poplar, Montana, graduating in 2015. Since then, I have attended Fort Peck Community College, Montana State University-Northern, Montana State University-Billings, Haskell Indian Nations University, and the University of Kansas- earning an associate degree in Automotive Technology from MSUB, a bachelor’s degree in Physical Education plus Health from KU, and now currently pursuing my master’s degree in Sport Management at KU.
Can you share a pivotal moment or experience that shaped your journey?
There was a night I was laying down in my dorm room during my second semester of college. All I wanted to do was drive home and never come back because the thought of doing this higher education routine for three more years was dreadful. After a long night of overthinking, continuous praying, and a lonesome feeling, I soon found out that I was putting my mental energy into the future instead of the now. That is when I found out the power of living in the present, the power of taking life one day at a time.
What challenges did you face along the way and how did you overcome them?
My first challenge was not understanding how the college system worked. I had no clue what financial aid was or how to access my class schedule but from my experience, the college advisors and personnel are there to help you succeed in any way they can. After some in-person meetings, I began to understand each department that accommodates a university.
Who were your role models or sources of inspiration when you were younger?
Kobe Bryant and his Mamba Mentality have instilled the determination factor in my journey. When the days were hard I was determined to make it out of the storm. When the days were bright I was determined to find a way to improve on my weaknesses.
What advice would you give to a young person who is unsure about their future career or goals?
Write down what makes you happy. If it makes you happy, there’s a chance you have a passion for it. If you have a passion for it, there is a career for it.
How do you stay motivated and driven, even when faced with setbacks?
I learned that setbacks happen for a reason. A setback is meant to guide you in a different direction that you may not understand now but will ultimately take you down a greater path toward your success.
Can you share an example of a time when you had to step out of your comfort zone? What did you learn from that experience?
Leaving the reservation was uncomfortable. Attending the University of Kansas was uncomfortable. Being in a room full of non-natives was uncomfortable. I am not the person I am today if I stayed in my comfort zone. Growth does not happen when you’re comfortable. You have to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
What skills or qualities do you believe are most important for young people to develop in order to succeed in their chosen paths?
The most important skill one can have is work ethic. Your work ethic will determine your value. The value that you bring to the table, to others, and to yourself. Here is a great creed that I have learned throughout my journey “Wake up in the morning, Get ready for the day, Do your job first, Then you can play”
How do you balance personal passions and professional responsibilities in your life?
Every day I make time for at least one personal passion and one professional responsibility. Some days there are five personal passions and one professional responsibility and other days there are 9 professional responsibilities and one personal passion. No matter what type of day it is, your passion or responsibility deserves 100% of your focus. Be all in on that moment throughout the day.
What strategies do you use to continue learning and growing in your field?
Knowledge is Power. Our ancestors and our elders became wise because they never stopped learning. Never let a day go by where you don’t learn something new that will benefit your future self. Read a book, watch a formal YouTube video, visit with mentors, and understand that there is always something new to learn that pertains to your field.
In your opinion, what are the most pressing challenges or opportunities for young people today?
The biggest challenge that you will need to overcome is learning how to remove distractions from your mindset. No matter what you do on your journey, people will do their job and be resentful towards you. Teach your mind to put mental energy into positive benefits rather than having a focus on what people are saying. Let them do their job while you do yours.
How do you envision the future, and what role do you see young people playing in shaping it?
The youth is our future. As educated Indigenous adults, we need to protect and serve our youth. We need to learn more about our culture, language, and traditions. This begins by teaching the young people the old ways in a re-indigenized environment.
Can you share a piece of advice or a mantra that has guided you throughout your journey?
There is a passion instilled in me to do what I need to do to make my people proud and provide the opportunities and resources to a Native community in rural Montana. When it comes down to it, “Someone gotta do it.”
What projects or initiatives are you currently working on that could inspire or involve young people?
Currently, I am in the planning stages of creating a non-profit through the Shades of Thorpe. The purpose of Shades of Thorpe is to lead by example, honor the greatest athlete of all time- Jim Thorpe, and create athletic, leadership, and educational opportunities for Native youth.
In your experience, how has mentorship or guidance from others contributed to your success?
There is only so much you can do by yourself. I encourage our youth to find a mentor who will help guide them throughout their journey. The knowledge and wisdom from a mentor will only add to your success. Without my mentor, Melissa Peterson (Navajo/Dine), I would not be the person I am today. Without Melissa, I don’t get the opportunity to have connections with the KU Chancellor, KU Athletics, or the Kansas City Chiefs.
What is one thing you wish you had known or done differently when you were younger?
I don’t have any regrets in life but if there was a chance to go back in time to visit with my younger self, I would tell him to listen and understand the stories that are spoken by the elders. More importantly, put my phone down and visit with my grandparents. They are a walking library with wisdom and knowledge that higher education cannot teach.
How can young people balance their ambitions with self-care and maintaining a healthy lifestyle?
You have to create time to take care of yourself. There are times when you need to work 15 or 20-hour days but know there are also times when you need to prioritize self-care. Burnout will happen and taking time to reset is necessary. There is no right or wrong way when it comes to self-care. It can be reading a book, working out, going to bed early, watching your favorite movie, turning your phone off, or going for a drive. Do what makes your spirit happy and be selfish with your self-care.
What message would you like to convey to young individuals who may be facing self-doubt or uncertainty about their potential?
I know it’s hard. I know you want to give in. I know it seems like there’s no way out but I promise you there is success after the hardship. Don’t worry about the future. Take life day by day. If you have to leave home, know that home will always be there-it ain’t going nowhere. And above all, understand that it is okay to be out of your comfort zone. All you need to do is take that first step.
Is there a particular story or lesson from your own journey that you’d like to share as an inspiration to young people?
I am just a kid that was born and raised on the Fort Peck Rez. I grew up in a single-parent household. Grabbing change from around the house to buy a bag of hot Cheetos was normal. I had no special talent but I was in control of my work ethic. A kid from the Fort Peck Rez is on the verge of earning his Master’s degree, was a Division I athlete, and is a Super Bowl Champion through the business side of an NFL organization. It doesn’t matter where you grow up or how you grow up, you are in charge of your journey.
What is one change you would like to see happen in your hometown community?
I want to see the same faces of an 8th-grade class four years later at their high school graduation
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I wish there was an educated answer for this but to be honest, I take life one day at a time and will acknowledge the future when it arrives.