Montana State University

Two MSU students awarded prestigious Udall Scholarship

May 3, 2016 -- Denise Hoepfner, MSU News

MSU students Elva Dorsey, left, and Montana Wilson, were awarded the prestigious Udall Scholarship from the Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation. Both students were selected in the Tribal Public Policy category.  MSU photo by Kelly GorhamMSU student Elva Dorsey, a business major from Browning, Montana, was named a Udall Scholar in the Tribal Public Policy category. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.MSU student Montana Wilson, of Poplar, Montana, was named a Udall Scholar in the Tribal Public Policy category. Wilson is an Honors College student with a dual major in economics and political science and a minor in Native American studies. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham

MSU students Elva Dorsey, left, and Montana Wilson, were awarded the prestigious Udall Scholarship from the Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation. Both students were selected in the Tribal Public Policy category. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham

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BOZEMAN -- Two Montana State University students, who are active in their tribal communities, have won the prestigious Udall Scholarship from the Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation.

Montana Duke Wilson of Poplar, Montana, and Elva Faye Agnes Dorsey, of Browning, Montana, were selected as Udall Scholars in the Tribal Public Policy category. Wilson and Dorsey are among sixty students from 49 colleges and universities to have been selected as 2016 Udall Scholars, said Ilse-Mari Lee, dean of MSU’s Honors College.

"We are so very proud of Elva and Montana, who have been named Udall Scholars in recognition of their significant contributions to tribal communities in Montana,” Lee said.  “As servant leaders, they will join a cohort of 15 Udall Scholars in Tribal Public Policy committed to working on issues related to American Indian nations.”

The Udall Foundation is an independent federal agency that Congress established in 1992 to provide federally funded scholarships for college students intending to pursue careers related to the environment, as well as to American Indian students pursuing tribal public policy or Native health care careers. Udall Scholars receive $7,000 to use toward academic expenses.

Dorsey is a junior majoring in business management in the Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship and a member of the Blackfeet Nation of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation with paternal ties to the Choctaw and Creek nations from Oklahoma.

Dorsey said she was so excited she started crying when Lee called to let her know she was a Udall Scholar. She credits Lee with encouraging her to apply for the scholarship.

“You have to do a lot of personal essays and at first I had a difficult time talking about myself,” she said. “Dr. Lee assured me it was important to let people know about my background.”

A single mother of an 11-year-old daughter, Dorsey earned her associate’s degree in business management at Blackfeet Community College before taking a job at a non-profit in Browning where she worked for eight years providing financial education for community members.

Last spring, she enrolled at MSU, considering a nursing career for the job security and pay level it would provide. A sociology class taught by Assistant Professor Matthew Filteau led to a change of heart.

“Professor Filteau helped me see that there are so many issues we need to address now, and not only on the reservation,” Dorsey said.

Coming from the reservation, she said she understood that the everyday lives of her classmates were very different from hers, which would mean additional challenges through her college career.

“My ‘normal’ is that every family is affected by domestic violence and children often see abuse,” Dorsey said. “In the school system on my reservation, 98 percent of all kids are eligible for the free lunch program. That’s normal where I come from and people just accept it.

“I decided I couldn’t go back and be a nurse and just help the physical symptoms knowing that I have the ability to address the other issues,” she said.

After graduation, Dorsey plans to return to the reservation to work on social issues through tribal policy and government. She also plans to work with the tribe to set up savings accounts for children who are born as enrolled members to use for education, a small business or a down payment on a home. She is looking to consult with MSU’s Blackstone LaunchPad on a feasibility study to open a manufacturing center on the reservation. And, she wants to set up a business incubator to help community members start their own businesses.

Dorsey said her family is proud of her accomplishments and aspirations, but still share stories of the way Browning used to be before its decline.

“I’m going to try to get them to see that Browning can be big again,” she said. “I feel they know it can be great again.”

Wilson said he is excited to be part of the Udall Scholar legacy at MSU and one of three MSU Udall Scholars selected in Tribal Public Policy. In 2013, MSU student Emery Three Irons from the Crow Indian Reservation was honored in the Tribal Public Policy category. It was the first time an MSU student was selected in the category.

Wilson is a junior in the Honors College with a dual major in economics in the colleges of Agriculture and Letters and Science and political science in the College of Letters and Science, with a minor in Native American studies. He is an enrolled Gros Ventre of the Fort Belknap Indian Community and a member of the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.

Wilson’s college education began in 2009 at Dartmouth College, where he studied government and entered the Central Intelligence Agency’s Pathways program, a government program established to give students an opportunity to explore federal careers.

As a sophomore, he participated in the global study abroad program Semester at Sea through the University of Virginia, where he encountered life-changing experiences that would steer him toward a new course. One of those occurred after the ship docked in Hong Kong and Wilson traveled to Tibet with a group of students. While there, Wilson said he witnessed a Tibetan monk and nun set themselves on fire in the town square to protest China’s occupation of Tibet.

“As a Native American, I could relate to that feeling of being oppressed,” Wilson said. “That’s what changed what I wanted to do. I realized the CIA was not for me.”

Wilson took a year off from school and returned to his reservation, where he interned in the Tribal Council’s public defender’s office. Because he had taken some law classes, he was asked to write motions and briefs. He was so successful, he said the court administrator suggested he take the Tribal Bar exam as an “educational experience.”

Wilson passed the Bar and became a lay advocate for the council, winning a lawsuit against a tribal court judge accused of violating juveniles’ rights in her court.

Though he had planned to return to Dartmouth, Wilson accepted a promotion as a deputy chief prosecutor. He was assigned to adult criminal court and also oversaw juvenile court, arraigning as many as 200 people a week, handling a number of pre-trials, bench and jury trials, and responding to motions.

Being back on the reservation led Wilson to reconnect with his culture and take on more tribal responsibilities. Last year, he decided to forgo Dartmouth and enroll at nearby MSU.

“I decided Dartmouth was not my fit,” he said. “I found out classes at MSU, especially in economics, were comparable to my classes at Dartmouth.”

An economics class instructed by Agricultural Economics and Economics Department Head Wendy Stock, -- who Wilson calls “an amazing instructor and mentor” – inspired him to declare economics as a second major and enroll in the Honors College.

After graduation, Wilson plans to work on the reservation for a year or two before heading to graduate school to study economic development. Ultimately, he wants to focus on economic development for Native nations to better life on the reservation.

“It’s about what we can do as a community to inspire hope, which is lacking in our communities,” Wilson said. “This hope can be built by strengthening and building up our institutions.”

Ilse-Mari Lee (406) 994-4689 or

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