Evelyn Eagleman, 63, remembers driving the long distance off Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation, Mont., to rescue her grandson when he was two. His father was serving in the military and his mother had been arrested on drug charges. The boy needed a new start.
She brought the child home to Rocky Boy, where she and her husband, Francis, became the child’s foster parents. Her grandson, now a teenager, will soon graduate from high school and plans to major in forestry in college. Eagleman said she and her husband are proud of the man he has become and gives much credit to the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren program at Stone Child College, in Box Elder, Mont.
“There are a lot of legal issues involved with foster parenting, and I can’t remember them all, but with this program, I know where to go for help,” she said. “We learned about our rights as foster grandparents.”
The Grandparents Raising Grandchildren program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) through its Tribal College Extension Grant program. This grant allows 1994 land-grants institutions, also known as tribal colleges, to provide education to reservation communities. The 32 colleges and universities that receive this funding provide a host of services, depending on the community needs.
Stone Child College uses its grant for many youth-focused outreach efforts, as well as the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren program. According to Mary St. Pierre, the Extension project director and leader of the grandparent program, about 10 percent of the community’s children are being raised by grandparents.
The 2010 U.S. Census reports that, nationally, 7 million grandparents had grandchildren living with them, a 64 percent increase since 1991. In about one-third of these cases grandparents had assumed a custodial role.
The Census reports that for American Indians, 97,278 grandparents live with their grandchildren and more than half have primary custodial responsibility. Many times, the parent lives with the family, too, as it is with the Eagleman’s.
St. Pierre’s next goal for NIFA’s Tribal College Extension Grant program is to develop a Positive Indian Parenting program that will accompany the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren program.
Through federal funding and leadership for research, education, and Extension programs, NIFA focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people’s daily lives and the nation’s future. More information is available at: www.nifa.usda.gov.