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. 

Myltin representing his tribal flag outside of Allen Fieldhouse at the University of Kansas.

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.

Myltin after graduation at Montana State University-Billings (Associates Degree in Automotive Technology)

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.

Myltin in the locker room during his colligate football playing days at Montana State University-Northern.

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. 

Myltin cheering his first KU football game after three days of experience.

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.”

Myltin observing GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium.

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.

Myltin next to NFL Tight End (Travis Kelce) and Quarterback (Patrick Mahomes) after the American Indian Heritage Kansas City Chiefs Game in 2022.

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. 

Myltin on the field of the 2023 Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs vs. the Philadelphia Eagles.

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. 

Learning how to be comfortable, being uncomfortable. 

This month we visited with18 year-old Alyssa Toce-Blount, an enrolled member of the Fort Peck Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes. Alyssa is a Frazer high school student who has participated in the Expanding Horizons youth ambassador program and is an inspiration to her community and tribes.

Where do you go to school and do you plan on attending college?

I am a senior at Frazer High School. I plan to go to college, but changed my mind this past year. I decided to go to Fort Peck Community College because I want to get custody of my little sisters, and get a house for us. When I graduate from there, I plan to transfer to MSU-Northern in Havre. I want to be a PE teacher. I would like to come back to my home town to steal my coach’s PE spot at Frazer.

What organizations, clubs or extracurricular activities do you participate in?

We don’t have any clubs at my school. As far as sports, I did three years of cross country. Running is my outlet, it helps me let go of all my stuff. I also am a youth ambassador in the Western Native Voice’s Expanding Horizons youth program. 

What other activities have you participated in that have inspired you?

I participated in the Warrior challenge, which is an obstacle course put on by the college in Poplar. Now they are bringing it to Frazer and it has inspired a lot of kids to be active.

I have been a part of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) run. I ran 21 miles and biked 5 miles. Me and one of my cousins also participated in a Red Ribbon run of 21 miles. It promotes drug and alcohol awareness. I was in Helena this year and was a legislative page. It was cool, I worked for a week…I loved it. I told my sisters about it and hopefully my younger sister will try it out. I found out that I like politics…it is chaotic but I like it. Fun fact: don’t wear heels at the capitol. We didn’t get to use elevators and had to use the stairs, so I got a good workout while I was there. 

Who were your mentors as a child?

Myself…my real mom wasn’t there a lot, I was my siblings mom…I had to do everything myself. When I was 12 years old, I went to stay with my grandma and my other mom. I was very depressed and sad. It was then that I got help and figured things out. It has been good since then. Now I will be graduating from high school and I have been prepping and it’s crazy that I am already graduating…I am the valedictorian. I also love the WNV Expanding Horizons program and I was glad to be a part of it this year. 

Alyssa celebrated with her great grandmother Thelma Blount on her birthday. Also, pictured are her sisters Kalianna, Dallas. Marilyn and grandma, Delane Blount.

Are you a goal setter?

I didn’t want to be like my parents who left. I wanted to break that cycle and set a better goal for myself and my children and be better people. Ever since I was a freshman, I wanted to be valedictorian. As a freshman, we wrote letters to our future selves, and I will get to read it after graduation…I get to hear my freshman self. 

Who are your mentors now?

My moms, Angie Toce and Delane Blount. When I first went to live with them…my mom Angie worked hard to fix us mentally and teach us new things. She talked with us every day that we could do better and now we are really strong believers in God and I even got baptized last summer. She has always pushed me to my ultimate limit and tells me that it will all be okay. A guest speaker with the WNV Expanding Horizons program told us that “You have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable”. That stuck with me and I always say that now. My sister even drew a picture of me and put that saying on it for me. I want other kids to realize that it’s not hard to be positive, and if they have someone that is a positive role model they will have an easier time to get involved in things.

Alyssa celebrated dinner with members of the Indian Caucus and others when she was a page in the 2023 legislative session.

What types of challenges have you faced and what did you learn from those challenges?

I learned that I couldn’t live in the past, because I was like that for 3 years. I let my birth mom leaving us get to me and I wasn’t growing. I had a hard time doing things and wasn’t motivated. My mom Angie kept pushing me and pushing me. It helped. Sometimes people have to be pushed to get higher on those steps. I use running to help me and it helps me get things off my mind. I go to church and ask for prayer requests. I know now that there is always gonna be someone there to help me and I can do whatever I put my mind to. It’s hard to ask for help, but I tried to do it on my own and realized, you have to have somebody.

What kind of change do you want to see in your community 5 years from now?

Better interactions with teenagers and a place for teens to hang out. There is nothing here in Frazer, we have to drive far to get anywhere. We need a safe and fun place for kids to hang out and have something to do besides drinking or smoking weed.

What roles does your culture play in your life? I actually don’t know alot about my culture. We don’t have a Native American studies teacher in our school. I go to pow wows sometimes, but we have to travel a long way to go to one. I did take a college course in Native American studies and it was really powerful and I learned alot about the history and how much of our history is actually true and not true…how much we don’t know because it wasn’t written down back then.

Alyssa participate in the WNV Expanding Horizons Youth Helena Experience in the Spring of 2023.

What is the most rewarding cause/project you have been a part of?

What did it teach you? This summer, before my junior year, I participated in the MMWI run which inspired me to want to do more. I realized that other kids could see me participate in things and get inspired and more involved with outside activities…like WNV’s Expanding Horizons and the legislative page experience. I want kids to know that there is more than just the reservation.

Do you have any plans to run for office in the future? (BIG SMILE)

Soooo…I figured out that I can run for state senator when I am 21. So I will  be a PE teacher until then. Also, I would like to be on the Frazer school board, but I have to wait for a position to open up. I want to see a lot of change in the school here. My sisters are still going to school here.

Any last words of advice?

It is always going to be hard, but you can do it and if you put your mind to it, you can achieve that goal. I want to tell kids that this is always going to be home, but you CAN go outside the reservation and open your mind to new experiences. Take a dive into different opportunities. Jump out of your comfort zone. You have to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable. 

Alyssa with her sisters, friends, and family.