United Tribes News

Job title is rare and needed
27 April 2009

BISMARCK (UTN) - When Kimberly Rhoades graduates from the University of North Dakota in mid May, she will join the ranks of a very small number of American Indians with formal, university training in the field of nutrition.

      “There are more and more Natives trained as nurses but very few as dietitians,” said Rhoades, a member of the Standing Rock Tribe. “I know of only two in the Dakotas.”

Kimberly Rhoades
Tashina Waste Win
(Her Pretty Shawl Woman)

      It’s not surprising that Kim’s path to this select field began in nursing. She earned an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Practical Nursing from United Tribes Technical College in 1998. She worked for a hospital in Bismarck, the Indian Health Service in Fort Yates and eventually for the Standing Rock Diabetes Program. That’s where her training and experience started to focus on dietetics. After a short time as a fitness technician, she became the program’s nutrition technician.

      “I enjoyed my job and loved to learn new ways and ideas to help improve our people on eating right and staying active,” she said. “In four years at the Diabetes Program, I worked with three dietitians. This is what inspired me to go back to school to receive my Bachelors Degree in Dietetics.”

      Stirred to seek more education and training, there was even more motivation for Kim in that members of her family have diabetes. And oddly present in parts of the culture is an almost fatalistic acceptance of diabetes and heart disease as a way of life. It was her hope to do something that helps.

      “My father (Elliott Rhoades) often says how important it is for tribal people to get educated and come back home, and in turn, educate and help other people.”

      So, it was off to UND in August 2006 with what she called her “little family,” daughter Kenzie Christy and son Justin Jay. It started out as a struggle.

      “It was scary going to the big university with 12,000 students. I had lived on Standing Rock all my life,” she said. “You’re even in the majority when you’re at United Tribes.”

      Her nurses training at United Tribes paid off in two important ways. When combined with elective coursework she had taken at Bismarck State College, she transferred to UND as a senior. That was a big leap in her college career, she said.

      Still, the coursework was challenging, especially chemistry. She often turned to the staff and students involved in UND’s Indian Programs, headed by Leigh Jeanotte, receiving help from counselors and tutors.

      “The challenges are that you have to work hard at not being homesick. You must find a comfort zone. And you must always ask questions and learn what you don’t know.”

      As a student in the health field, she joined the Indians Into Medicine Program (INMED), taking part in events and activities. It was like a family for her and she also received help with transportation.

      One of the greatest difficulties was finding child care that would fill the times when it wasn’t offered by the university. In evenings, when she often needed to focus long and hard on studying, she received help from friends.

      Then her family pitched in to help. In 2007, her parents in Fort Yates took in the children. The kids have stayed with their grandparents for two years and the family has continued to be very supportive. This allowed her to focus on her class work but it didn’t make it any easier being apart.

      “I always tried to help them understand that it would benefit everyone in the end. I said that after I finished they would get their mother back and I would be able to earn a living that would support us all.”

      As Kim neared the end of her senior year in the UND Dietetics program, the curriculum called for completing an internship. She chose the Bismarck/Burleigh Public Health office where she is supervised by Wanda Agnew, PhD, LRD.

      “It is so important that Indian Country will soon have one more trained dietitian,” said Agnew, formerly the Land Grant Programs director at United Tribes Technical College. “There are only a very select few in the culture with this training. It was something we had been planning for – to increase the number of professionals in this field.”

      Lately Kim has been about the task of sending around her resume and applying for jobs. She would like to locate at Standing Rock or somewhere close (she has a house at Fort Yates). But she is open to getting started and will go where a good job is. It can be anywhere so long as she can be employed as a dietician and gain experience, she said.

      “I’m so proud of her,” said Agnew. “I know she will connect and get the kind of employment she deserves and the People need.”

      She will become a “Registered Dietitian” after passing the American Dietetic Association testing, which she expects to take in the later part of the summer. Likely places for her to be employed are in schools or hospitals.

      “I really hope everything works out,” she said.

      The UND graduation is scheduled in Grand Forks for May 16, which is a good day for the field of dietetics in Indian Country and the official day when Kim’s children get their mother back.