“I still don’t believe today that I’ve gotten it – I’m still processing it.”

That’s perfectly understandable. The Gates Millenium Scholarship is hard to get your mind around. It all started in 1999 when Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, decided to set aside $1-billion to support the education of promising students of diverse ethnic backgrounds: African American, American Indian and Alaska Natives, Asian Pacific Islander, and Hispanic American.

The program pays for all “unmet need” for its scholars, including graduate school in a variety of sciences, education, mathematics, or public health.

13,000 scholars have received funding from the Gates Millenium Foundation since its inception. 80-percent of them have gone on to graduate.

Maka Monture joins the current crop of about 1,000 Millenium Scholars. She says her family’s financial situation had caused her to think about college in small pieces. Now, as a Millenium Scholar, the sky is the limit.

 “I can expand my horizons to even look into law school, and get the really sound, strong education I need to accomplish my dreams.”

Those dreams are big. Monture has lived in Yakutat since 2000, where she’s been active in basketball, cross-country, and cheerleading. Also a Tlingit Dancer, Monture had been leaning toward a career in theater and performance.

But at a memorial potlatch last fall in Klawock, Monture experienced an epiphany. She was asked to join the Klawock Native Dancers to perform a piece called the “Ancestors Song.” The symbolism and power of the moment altered her career plans.

 “We represented the trees of the forest. And behind us, Tlingit men in traditional warrior helmets and weapons wove through us and the crowd. And I opened my eyes and I saw to my right elders singing, and to my left young children that weren’t even as tall as my knees singing. And my own brother was in a helmet, and I just realized, with the drum beating and the voices singing – and tears absolutely streaming down my face – that I needed to fight for this. I needed to have a career to fight to continue this.”

That Maka Monture is particularly expressive for a young person is no accident. In her junior year, she began to compete in Alaska Native Oratory. In the statewide competition – usually dominated by college students — she took first in Storytelling and a first in Dramatic Declamation. This year she took second in Storytelling, but first in Oratory – thereby earning a talking stick and her retirement from the competition.

Monture credits her participation in Alaska Native Oratory for much of her success.

“It’s an amazing experience. It really helps empower youth – Native American youth – to speak out about issues, tell their side of the story, and make a difference.”

 If you’re hoping to catch Monture and congratulate her on winning a Millenium Scholarship, you’ll have to wait, or pack. She’s currently visiting Washington DC on a school trip. Monture will graduate with the rest of Yakutat’s senior class on May 18th. She plans to attend the University of Alaska in Fairbanks in the fall.

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