Prairie Rose Seminole is an educator at the Boys & Girls Club in New Town, North Dakota.
That alone is a story to tell. Every teacher deserves a spotlight, a moment to feel appreciated and seen.
Every single teacher.
But that’s not the story today. Yes, Prairie Rose guides youth toward a better future, but in western North Dakota, that means her work is more about prevention — in an oil boom town saturated with alcohol addiction, a broken infrastructure and disengagement. So it has to continue outside the classroom and into the community these kids are being brought up in.
And it’s working. Slowly, New Town is becoming stronger and more aware of its challenges simply because Prairie Rose is insisting upon it.
“Education is key, and my role in this community is prevention,” she says.
Even though it may not have been in her job description when Prairie Rose began work at the Boys & Girls Club last June, she has been tirelessly reaching out to a community of people — and even a government — who need her. She is optimistic, bold and unafraid of anything because she sees potential quietly thriving in this place she calls home.
New Town is the largest city on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, which is home to Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, also known as the Three Affiliated Tribes. Prairie Rose’s family is Northern Cheyenne and is enrolled in this reservation.
“We have some land up here, but we’re not an oil rich family,” she says. The land that her family would have is actually flooded now, underneath Lake Sakakawea. When the water is low enough, remnants of the former city can still be seen.
When I visited Prairie Rose on a very cold March day, she took me over Four Bears Bridge and up to Crows Flies High Butte, a scenic view of the lake. She was proud to take me there.
“This is named after Rose Crows Flies High, the first chairwoman of the Three Affiliated Tribes,” Prairie Rose explains. “She was a phenomenal resource in Indian Country.”
You should know — Prairie Rose is, too.
Tackling issues head-on
Prairie Rose’s official title at the Boys & Girls Club is a youth prevention specialist. Unlike staff who provide direct services with the kids, her job is “unique.”
“My role is to affect change in the environmental influences of our youth,” she says. “I build community by informing our members about the issues we face, from alcohol and drugs to how to vote, volunteer or make healthy choices.”
Prairie Rose said the first few months of her job focused solely on alcohol reduction and the underage drinking problem.
“North Dakota has such a strong alcohol culture, people don’t even recognize it,” she says. “We are a population that is dying at a faster rate than our non-native counterparts in this state, and my role in the community is prevention.”
So she brings in assemblies and performances to help the students develop life skills that prevent bad choices. She also has a weekly radio broadcast to talk through community problems and invites political leaders onto the shows.
“I’ve had law enforcement on the radio with me to demystify how law enforcement works,” she says. “We help identify and understand gaps, and we work to support one another and improve relationships.”
Her background as a community activist helps. Before New Town, Prairie Rose worked in Fargo as a cultural adviser for Sanford and was much more involved in politics than she is now. “I was in appointed office for 18 years. I was seated at 14 years old with a mayor who taught me a lot about nonpartisan leadership,” she says.
But she still didn’t feel any real responsibility in the community. So when the Boys & Girls Club asked her to come to New Town, “I think it was just pivotal that I needed something different.”
Knowledge is prevention
Prairie Rose Seminole hosts a weekly radio show called “The Voice.” It airs 2 p.m. Wednesdays on KMHA 91.3 FM. “It’s not a show for complainers, but to come together and solve problems.”
Prairie Rose is aware of the sacrifice she made to come to New Town.
“This environment here is extremely overwhelming when you let it get to your head like that. But you can’t, or you’ll be defeated already.”
To overcome that, she embraces her community with open arms — not only for support, but to teach as far as she can reach. To her, knowledge is prevention.
“In the past year, I’ve worked closely with the community through meetings and surveys to have support moving forward in any work I do,” she says. “I have allies and friends who are in this for the same reasons. There are few of us, but we’re growing, and that’s what matters.”
Building relationships provides a teamwork atmosphere that New Town needs.
“We have a shared responsibility and a vision guiding us in a way that we don’t feel alone.”
Prairie Rose believes educating the community and the government who leads them is the best way to a more integrated New Town, especially on the Fort Berthold Reservation.
“I provide trainings for law enforcement and have partnered with states attorneys offices to educate them on working with tribes and tribal law enforcement,” she says. “For a very long time, tribes in general have been left out of the process of decision-making at county and state levels. So part of my work is to build trust.”
This education carries over to the families of New Town as well. When she works with the youth, they take those prevention efforts home. “They get their parents and grandparents involved and informed,” she says.
It’s progress that begins in the school, but the awareness can last a lifetime.
This is a long-term commitment
It’s amazing what Prairie Rose has accomplished in a year. By the end of July, she will have already worked with all nine levels of law enforcement — including local, tribal, county, state and federal agencies. In the process, she has reached out to over 1,600 youth on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.
But in her mind, it’s been a slow development.
“It has to be. You really have to soft-hand the approach, because nobody has done this before. And if they have, they broke promises, let people down or burned bridges,” she says.
So she’s in this for the long term. And for the right reasons.
“People thought I came out here for two reasons: to find a man, or to run for political office.”
She laughs. “Maybe it’s because I’m such a hopeful person, that I believe in humanity, that I can come out here and do good work and change the world for the better within my reach, but that’s my driving passion, and I don’t think about those two other things at all. I just don’t think like that.
“I’m much more purpose-driven.”
She has to be. And even if the road is long, Prairie Rose has a broader vision to carry out her good work. Within the Boys & Girls Club, within her reservation, and beyond.
“This is how we tell our story,” she says. “This is how we lift up the kids and families who want a better, brighter future.”
She’ll get there. You’ll see.