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Area mother works for future of her reservation

By Jenny Michael
Bismarck, North Dakota (AP) May 2010

Jesi Shanley works long hours and drives about two hours a day in hopes that she can help make the future brighter for not only her children but all the children in her home community on Standing Rock Reservation.

Shanley, 32, is working toward earning a doctorate in adult and occupational education, a degree she hopes will help her transform the reservation on which she grew up. At the same time, she’s raising her two sons and one daughter in Bismarck.

Shanley is a management specialist for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, a position she was appointed to by Tribal Chairman Charles Murphy. The job entails many things, among them expanding the tribe’s landbase, community development, budgeting and communications.

She already has a bachelor’s degree from Salish Kootenai College in Montana and a master’s degree in management from the University of Mary. Adding a doctorate would give her another tool in fighting poverty on Standing Rock, she said.

The reservation, southwest of Bismarck, has approximately 800 homeless families, a shortage of homes and a shortage of economic development, Shanley said. She hopes to work to change that.

“I’m really working on community development programs that would reduce poverty among Indian people,” she said.

The programs include training and educational programs that she hopes will get people “away from the structure of poverty.”

She and her family live in Bismarck only because of the housing shortage on Standing Rock.

“It is my goal to find or build a place on the reservation,” she said. The commute gives her a 140-mile round-trip drive and a 12-hour day. However, that’s not her only reason for wanting to live in the community she serves.

“I can’t really come down here and talk community development, then drive back to Starbucks,” she said.

Many of her family members have returned to the reservation after getting their educations, and Shanley, who lived on Standing Rock until moving to Bismarck in the fifth grade, is excited to join them.

“I think I’m getting to that age where I want to be home,” Shanley said. She said her children are “moody” about the possible move, but they like the idea of living near their cousins.

Sons Adam, 11, and Andrew, 6, enjoy skateboarding, bike riding and playing with their friends in their west Bismarck neighborhood.

Layna, 9 months old, is just starting to walk around, holding onto things for support and enjoys making her brothers carry her around.

“She’s just the cutest, fattest, chubbiest little girl,” Shanley said.

Shanley doesn’t like spending long days away from her family and acknowledges how much easier life will be when she can move her children closer to her work. But she hopes her work will improve the outlook for her children and others on the Standing Rock reservation.

Shanley advises other mothers to take time to relax and talk with friends. She has a group of women she meets over coffee, giving her an outlet to talk about “heartbreaks or financial difficulties or health problems.”

“It really helps to know that nobody’s life is perfect and everybody has struggles,” she said.

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