Coeur d’Alene High School senior Oteskwebeeksaki Shebala, who goes by Oteskew (Oats-quay), will be the first in her immediate family to attend college when she arrives at Stanford University this fall.
She picked the school in part because it has an active Native American student community. “It’ll feel easier to feel connected to my home,” she said.
Shebala’s Native American culture is very important to her. Though she grew up in Coeur d’Alene, her father is from the Navajo Nation reservation and her mother is from Seattle. She is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation and also has roots in the Blackfeet, Choctaw and Tlingit tribes.
She and her family travel to powwows across the country each summer, usually competing somewhere new every weekend. “I’ve been dancing since I could walk,” she said.
She said she enjoys traveling and meeting new people at the powwows. She competes in the women’s traditional dance category, donning a beaded top with a long fringe. The dance isn’t as fast as some of the other dances, Shebala said. “It’s a calmer dance to show the poise and technique,” she said.
All of her five siblings dance, including her youngest brother who is in the second grade. “We all dance different styles,” she said.
She’s also been keeping busy with sports and other activities during the school year. She has played basketball since her freshman year, except for her junior year when she tore her ACL. She competed in cross country her sophomore year and did well enough to advance to the state meet.
Last year she got involved in a Mock United Nations group, where students at different schools pick a country and a topic they want to represent and meet with other schools to discuss their chosen topic. “It just started last year so we haven’t done much,” she said. “I think it’s a really great opportunity to experience.”
She’s been a member of the National Honor Society since last year. Shebala said she doesn’t worry about competing with other students with her grades. Her goal is simply to push herself to do her best. “It’s more challenging myself and making sure I complete each class to my max,” she said. “I feel like I learned more because I wasn’t stressed about competing with other students.”
Despite not focusing on how well she’s doing in comparison to other students, Shebala is ranked in the top 10% of her class, said school counselor Rick Jones. Her involvement in cultural activities has also been noticed. “Oteskwe is very active in the Native American community, where she participates and leads in a number of activities geared toward youth,” Jones said. “Oteskwe is an amazing young woman who always puts forth her best efforts in everything she does.”
When she was considering what to do after high school, her art teacher told her about the QuestBridge National College Math Program scholarship. She applied and was granted a full-ride scholarship at the school of her choice.
“It’s opened up a lot of opportunities for me,” she said of the scholarship.
She’s considering a STEM career such as engineering, but she also has an interest in attending law school. “Ultimately, I want to be able to help Native communities,” she said.