Student Profile: Veteran advocates for Native American culture

After seven-and-a-half years of service in the Air Force, including overseas tours to Japan and England, LeRoy Peters took advantage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill to fund his education at MSU. Enrolled since fall 2009, Peters will graduate this semester with a major in history and a minor in Native American studies.

Peters, who grew up in Maryland, developed an interest in Native American culture early in life; at age 12, he remembers how his half-Cherokee paternal grandmother told him stories of Cherokee culture and people. Later, while stationed in Grand Forks, N.D., and driving to Mount Rushmore with his visiting parents, Peters recalled his father’s remark, “Now I know why Crazy Horse fought so hard for this land.”

These experiences allowed Peters’ respect for Native culture to grow, so shortly after enrolling at MSU he became involved with the American Indian Council (AIC) on campus. Designed to help Native American students transition to college, the AIC also hosts an annual pow wow on campus. Peters makes a point to attend every year, and has even volunteered as a security guard.

Someday, Peters would like to work as a teacher on a Native American reservation, a dream influenced by the time he spent on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, one of the poorest reservations in the country. Driven by his respect for the culture and his Christian faith, Peters witnessed the situation on the reservation and “knew this country could do a lot more to help American Indians.”

“I always want to give back,” he said. “I try to be unselfish.”

Despite his graduation in just a few weeks, Peters is not ready to leave Bozeman. “It’s been a wonderful ride,” he said, explaining that he has found work at Blackhawk — a company that manufactures military and law enforcement supplies — in Manhattan, Mont. Job security is more important than anything else at the moment, he explained.

A man of ardent faith, Peters considers his church family his biggest support group away from home. “Their emotional and physical support has been the reason my mom and dad don’t have high blood pressure,” he joked. “I want Jesus to protect all my friends, whether they accept him or not.” Peters’s family will be coming to Bozeman for the Dec. 15 commencement to show their support.

Reflecting on his experience in the military, Peters said, “It helped me appreciate my family more and made me more responsible.” Not only did this time build an appreciation for his life, family and friends, but it also allowed him to come to Bozeman for college. Opportunities like these are why Peters believes “all high school seniors, from all backgrounds, should consider joining the military. For me, it was probably the best decision I ever made.”