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Iko'tsimiskimaki "Ekoo" Beck remembers all too well the pain bullying caused her in middle school. "I felt alone, hopeless and wished someone would help," she said.
Now a senior cross-country runner at Hellgate (Missoula, Mont.), Beck has answered that call for others, leading a school initiative designed to teach students anti-bullying techniques. The program provides education for potential bullies and victims. In recognition of her efforts, Beck was invited to the White House this past December and was one of 11 Native American student leaders hailed in the "Champions of Change" program.
For Beck, 16, the bullying issue cuts to the core of education. "Bullying prevents students from learning," she said. "I don't believe students can learn if they are not in a safe space."
Beck has also helped lead the fight against racism and homophobia. Her paternal grandfather, Armin Beck, worked with Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil rights movement. Her parents, David Beck and Rosalyn LaPier, are professors at the University of Montana, and both specialize in Native American studies. David is of Germanic, British and Swedish descent; Rosalyn is Native American from the Blackfeet tribe in Montana and the Turtle Mountain Chippewa tribe in North Dakota.
Because she is half Native American, Ekoo was teased during her younger years. But she is proud of her roots and recently legally changed her name from Emily Florence to Iko'tsimiskimaki, the name that was given to her informally at birth by her great grandmother.
"Native American is my primary identification," said Beck, who has a 4.0 GPA and plans to study neuroscience in college. "I've had the privilege of taking Blackfoot (language) lessons at the (University of Montana)."
Last year, she received a grant from AT&T and America's Promise Alliance, a nonprofit group founded in the '90s by Gen. Colin Powell. The goal of the group is to improve student health and educational achievement. Beck used the grant to provide anti-bullying training for students at three Missoula high schools.
Heidi Wallace, the director of youth programs for the National Coalition Building Institute in Missoula, said she has seen less violence in schools where their programs are in place. "We teach students to be allies to each other," Wallace said. "We train them to have confidence to interrupt bullying when they see it happening."
Wallace said Beck has become an "integral" part of the organization. "Ekoo uses her own life experiences to teach others," Wallace said. "The best way to inspire young people is through leadership of their peers, and Ekoo is a stellar example."