The message was clear to students that gathered in the Cheyenne-Eagle Butte auditorium May 10: aviation involves way more than flying the friendly skies, even if Wilbur Wright, one of the founders of aviation said that there was no better sport than actually flying.
Sam Dupris, CRST member and the first Native American to break into the aviation industry as a pilot, worked for 15 years after he retired to gather all of the right people for this occasion.
Dupris told students that he looked at the statistics mapping out who flies. He saw statistics showing the number of black pilots from 1970 to today, and asked himself, “Where are we [Native Americans]?”
Determined not to be the only Native American pilot to make a name for himself and his people in the American aviation industry, Dupris contacted South Dakota State University, the governor’s office and anyone else who would listen, to create a partnership between the college and Cheyenne-Eagle Butte High School that would groom young aviation enthusiasts.
C-EB Counselor Jill Kessler asked anyone in the audience to stand up if he or she had worked in the aviation industry in some way, and three people, Tate Fischer, Kyle Ward and Ryan Moran stood up, all three C-EB graduates and all three said they worked at the ground level in the aviation field.
Ward was an aviation electrician, Fischer a helicopter pilot and Moran fueled jets.
Last year, 2017 C-EB graduate Calvin Traversie participated in the program by attending a summer camp and just finished his freshman year at the school at SDSU.
“It was a perfect storm,” said Traversie, who attended the ACE Summer Camp, where students are introduced “to careers in aerospace, aviation and the science used to operate them. Attendees will construct and launch model rockets, learn how to navigate an aircraft, tour an air traffic control facility and receive one-on-one flight instructions behind the controls of a Cessna 172 airplane during the four-day, three-night camp. There will also be a trip to see an F-16 Falcon jet fighter,” says the SDSU website about the camp.
For Traversie, the perfect storm was when interest met opportunity at the very first Aviation Days event held at C-EB in the Spring 2017.
This year, more leaders came to present to the students in an assembly and share how becoming a pilot may be a start or the close of a long list of possible careers a person may have in his or her lifetime.
Representatives from Senator Mike Rounds’ office, Senator John Thune’s office, the SDSU Aviation Program, and the CRST tribe.
During Dupris talk, he shared the difficulties that he faced in the 1960s and 1970s trying to become a pilot and then trying to be hired for a job.
He faced discrimination because of his Native American ancestry, and if not for his relentless effort and willingness to go where the work was, he would not have been able to do what he is doing now for future generations, Dupris explained.
“You can do the very same things, and I am going to do my best to make these things available to you,” Dupris told the students.
After the assembly, students had the opportunity to fly in the simulators and then to fly with licensed pilots and instructors who flew in from SDSU and took students on an ariel tour of Eagle Butte.
Due to weather, Friday’s flights were rescheduled for the following week.
The presentation and flights provide students with an alternative view of what their current surroundings are and their potential futures could be.
“Our backgrounds and circumstances may influence us, but we are responsible for who we become,” Dupris told students.