By Ernie Over, WyoToday

UW President Ed Seidel visited with attendees of the Meet and Greet at the Fort Washakie School. Wyotoday photo by Ernie Over

The Commons at Fort Washakie High School was the scene of a University of Wyoming Meet and Greet on September 8th with a number of UW officials on hand to talk about the relationship between Wind River and the University. Master of Ceremonies Sandy Iron Cloud opened the event by stressing how important education is for the young people of the reservation and how important it is for them to have role models from their own community.

Featured in the opening was a short video featuring UW Alumna Vanessa Sorrels-Peahrora of Lander who talked about her educational experience and how UW prepared her for her career and role in the reservation community. Sorrels-Peahrora is a pharmacist for the Indian Health Service in Fort Washakie. She graduated with her Doctor of Pharmacy degree from UW in 2019, capping a courageous journey that began when she earned a GED diploma after leaving high school before her sophomore year and becoming a young mother. She said she left school because “I didn’t respect education and instead went to work as a CNA,” which she said was rough job for her as a single parent at age 17. But it was at that job that she met a pharmacist and saw how medications worked for patients. “I like science, so I got my GED and then two Associate Degrees at Casper College and applied to UW, but was initially rejected.” I had to make myself look better and worked to improve her resume and then “I finally got in.” With only 52 students in her class, she said it became a family unit with her peers and she branched out and joined the Keepers of the Fire club and received several scholarships her last two years. “It opened a lot of doors for me and I was prepared when I took the job at IHS.” She thanked UW for the opportunity. 

Eastern Shoshone Business Council member John Washakie, a long-time librarian at the Fort Washakie School, said he spent 18 years in the school. “I’m proud of Vanessa and proud to see someone from our tribe working in our community.”

Sorrels-Peahrora was joined by current UW students from the reservation: Mia Holt, a pharmacy student from Lander, and Shay Jimerson, an engineering student and entrepreneur from Fort Washakie. They both relayed their stories of becoming a part of the UW Community. 

In his presentation to the group, UW President Ed Seidel noted this was his fifth visit to the reservation. He outlined the many steps the university is taking to to develop stronger ties with the reservation; preparing students for the modern economy; and boosting entrepreneurism and the state’s economy. “I am retooling UW to engage Native students and I am committed to this,” he said. “The Native American Cultural Center on campus is a vibrant support structure for our students,” he said. He also announced that the university has hired Tarisa Spoonhunter from Central Wyoming College to direct UW’s High Plains American Indian Research Institute (HPAIRI). She currently is working remotely and will start on the UW campus Oct. 1. “We are really proud of out students who go on to do great things,” he said. 

Kyle Trumble, one of the organizers of the Wind River Startup Challenge, a regional entrepreneurship opportunity designed to distribute thousands of dollars to Native-owned startup companies, talked about the program.  He called the effort an hybrid incubator and accelerator which last year distributed $50,000 to start-ups on the Reservation. The Wind River Startup Challenge involves multiple partners, including UW and Central Wyoming College. 

George Abeyta, a Fancy Dancer with the Eagle Spirit Dancers and Singers and a teacher at Fort Washakie closed out the program and narrated a dance exhibition lead by Patrick Littleshield who carried the Eagle Staff at the entry of the dancers, who exhibited traditional, grass, shawl and jingle dance regalia. 

George Abeyta introduced the Eagle Spirit Dancers and Singers

Master of Ceremonies Sandy Iron Cloud

Sandy Iron Cloud introduced Vanessa’s video

A still image from Vanessa’s Video

Vanessa Sorrels-Peahora

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ESBC Member John Washakie
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Seidel addressed the gathering