Wildlife Rehabilitation and Language Revitalization

Portrait of Summer Lara.

Han mitakuyepi, iyuskinyan wanchiyankapi. Chante wasteya nape chiyuzapi. 
Hello my relatives, I’m happy to meet you! I shake your hand with a good heart.

Summer Lara is a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation, which is located in northeast South Dakota; just three and a half hours away from the Twin Cities. 

She is most passionate about animals, their wellbeing, and their relationship with people, as well as community outreach and how she can best serve her community. It’s for this reason that she is a fisheries, wildlife, and conservation biology major with a pre-vet track and an American Indian studies major. Lara hopes to one day move to her reservation and serve her community by opening up a wildlife rehabilitation clinic that provides affordable veterinary medical care to large and small animals. In addition, Lara aims to incorporate a youth program with the tribal school and create a volunteer network and veterinary assistant certification course. Her dream is to combine her passions for veterinary medicine and community outreach.

Year of study: Senior
Majors: Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology; Pre-Vet Track and Wildlife Emphasis, American Indian Studies - Dakota Language Track

What brought you to the University of Minnesota? 

A huge reason for coming to the University of Minnesota was how close it is to my community. I grew up in Illinois and away from my family and culture. By coming to the UMN, I was able to be closer to my family and learn more about what it means to be Dakota and a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate. Another major reason for why I came to the UMN was the Dakota language program offered here. My grandmother is a fluent speaker and being able to speak Dakota with her is a dream of mine. The language program is unique to the UMN and I couldn’t find it anywhere else.

What made you decide on your majors? 

It wasn’t until I went through a few majors that I decided on these two. I had originally started out as a biology major but the values did not really fit what I was looking for. I had also started taking Dakota language classes as a freshman with no intention of majoring in it, but only wanted to study it. After I found fisheries and wildlife, I felt that the values matched me best as far as what I believed in and how I wanted to interact with the world. As for Dakota language, I took a few more American Indian studies courses to fulfill my liberal education requirements. I decided that I wanted to study the language more in-depth to do my part in keeping it alive, so I decided to major in it.

What do you love about your studies?

I love learning about how the natural world interacts with itself. I also love learning about how we as people can assist in keeping the natural world intact. My love of animals coupled with my culture has led to me incorporating my teachings into my classes that have more westernized thinking. Learning about how to take care of wildlife through wildlife rehabilitation and learning what I can do as a human to minimize our impact on them is also so fascinating to me. 

As for Dakota language, I love learning every new word. Each word that I learn is me keeping the Dakota language alive. In Minnesota, there are less than five first language fluent Dakota speakers who were born and raised here. By doing my part in learning the language, I’m helping to revitalize the language and there’s something that is so fulfilling about it. It helps to connect me to my heritage, my ancestors, and gives me a clearer understanding of my culture and values. 

How have your experiences as a student in AIS prepared you for the present and future?

Through the American Indian studies department, I’ve gained a lot of valuable skills as a teaching assistant for one of the Dakota language instructors, as well as being a youth mentor for the department’s American Indian Summer Institute (AISI). I’m learning how to teach the language which I hope to incorporate into my veterinary medical practice, as well as gaining cultural knowledge that I also hope to incorporate. As a youth mentor, I’m learning how to work with Native youth which also fits into my idea of starting a youth program. I’m hoping to take the skills I’m gaining from these positions and apply them to my future endeavors.

What goals do you have for your future?

My goals are to graduate undergraduate school with a BS in fisheries, wildlife, and conservation biology as well as with a BA in American Indian studies-Dakota language. Following this, I hope to attend the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine, graduate, and complete a residency with general medicine for wildlife, large, and small animals. After working in the cities for a little bit, I hope to eventually move to the Lake Traverse Reservation and open a mixed practice clinic. I also hope to partner with the tribal school and tribal government to fund a youth program and fund my clinic to provide affordable veterinary care to tribal members. 

What do you like about being on campus or living in the Twin Cities?

I love living in the Twin Cities because of all the opportunities you can find, as well as how you can make the best situation in living in the cities. By this I mean that the cities aren’t that large— it’s nothing like living in New York or Chicago. But, it’s big enough that you can go downtown and enjoy a city vibe. If you’re more of a small town person, it can feel like that too. There’s plenty of areas that you can go to that have a small town feel like to local parks or even the suburbs. The campus is the same way. As far as opportunities, there’s a little bit of everything in the cities. You can easily find work or internships within the political realm, or find centers and clinics to work with animals or human medicine. There’s art, music, everything you can really think of here in the cities and I love all that variety. You can find your community easily and I think that’s one of the most important things you should look for when looking for a higher education institution.

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