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Frankie T. Kipp fights for Blackfeet youth.

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  • Frankie T. Kipp fights for Blackfeet youth.

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    This Message Is Reprinted Under The Fair Use
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    Glacier Reporter

    Frankie T. Kipp fights for Blackfeet youth.

    By Marjane Ambler, Editor, Tribal College Journal

    Blackfeet Nation Boxing Club. Blackfeet youth learn confidence and pride at the boxing club, as well as contributing services to their community. Molina Kipp, on Frankie's right, serves as the "club mom." Photo by Tony Bynum
    Reprinted by Permission

    Three years ago, Frankie T. Kipp and his fiancée, Molina Burdeau, wanted to get married, but they had a problem. None of the community centers in the small town of Browning were available that day - they were all being used for funerals.

    Kipp and Burdeau celebrated their wedding ceremony at Blackfeet Community College. But the mixture of happiness and sorrow in town that day reflects Kipp's life on the reservation, and the reasons he considers this corner of the world his true home.

    "I lived in Seattle, Wash., for much of my life. Our family came here throughout our childhood. My parents tried to live in Browning, but my father was a welder, and there was no real work for him. It was a lesson in poverty to us."

    In 1993 at the age of 32, Kipp settled in Browning. He worked construction, but his specialty - concrete work - took a toll on his body, and he realized he needed to make a change. He contacted the tribe and received funding to enroll in the tribal college. "An angel must have been looking over my shoulder."

    "I always have wanted to help youth in our community in some way, but I was always so busy trying to survive in the construction world in Browning." He recognized the problems for young people there - nothing to do but drive around surrounded by negative influences, especially alcohol.

    "Our nation has lost many good kids to this evil through suicide or homicide or drunken driving. It all could be stopped if these young people had a positive place to go."

    While taking a class on juvenile delinquency, Kipp's dream was born: he would start a boxing club. "The sport of boxing runs deep in my family roots. I am a third generation boxer and coach," he says.

    Kipp also knows what it is like to be poor, pessimistic and in trouble. "Boxing changed that for me by forcing me to focus on dedicating myself to a sport that demanded the best of me."

    Kipp's career switch became the community's blessing. Someone told him about a couple of abandoned warehouses next to the town's oldest graveyard, and in 2003, the Blackfeet Tribe gave him a lease on them for 25 years. Over the next several months Kipp's family, the youth probation officer, tribal programs and local businesses transformed one into a boxing club and the other into a youth center.

    Young men labeled uncooperative and impossible have blossomed at the boxing club. "I tell the kids we're not here to teach bullies how to be better bullies. It takes courage, honor and pride to step into the ring and try to out-think your opponent," Kipp says.

    Parents and teachers see participants changing. An eighth grade teacher said, "They are developing a commitment to success both inside and outside of school." Two middle school counselors said, "It is incredible to watch the participants grow in confidence and pride. The boxing club allows them to excel and feel part of a group."

    Perhaps the most meaningful praise comes from a mother who was having so much trouble with her boys that she expected to one day bury one of them. "I feel that my family is saved," she says in her letter. "He [Frank Kipp] has shown the real spirit of our Native way and used his gift to help others."

    The boxing club vision grows as Kipp sees new problems to tackle. Rushing to the boxing club from class at the tribal college one day, he took along a sandwich and became aware that four sets of eyes were watching him take each bite.

    He stopped and cut it into four pieces, and soon he and his wife were providing a soup kitchen with crock pots and a grill. The sign on the wall said, "We are a boxer's family, and we eat with no questions asked. Just eat."

    When he became disgusted by the trash along a highway, the boxing club cleaned it up. When seasonal firefighting jobs were scarce, he realized that students couldn't afford school supplies. He joined with other organizations to collect donations and hand out notebooks, pencils and pens.

    Blackfeet Community College named Kipp as its Student of the Year last year. At the conference in April, he received a $1,000 check from the American Indian College Fund and the Castle Rock Foundation. He said the money will benefit many more people. During boxing road trips, he and his wife, Molina, reach often into their own pockets to buy shoes, socks or food for young boxers.

    Fortunately, his wife shares his dedication to the young people and serves as the "club mom." "It's like we are their extended family. We don't drink or drug. These kids like that."

    His latest plans are for a suicide hot line. A local telephone company has donated a telephone line with toll-free service and call forwarding. Many people have expressed interest because they believe people are dying needlessly. "We believe that all kids and young adults need someone to talk to at times," Kipp says.

    Not surprisingly, Kipp's fund raising doesn't always keep up with his vision of problems that need to be fixed. Going to school, coaching and working with the kids ate up all of his time. Sometimes he could barely pay the light bill. "Now I have graduated, and I have people who will help me with grant writing and fund raising this year."

    In boxing, when someone is hit really hard, the referee will stop the match and give him an "eight count" to see if he is ready to continue fighting.

    "I will not give up," Kipp says. "I have to keep it going because this is my life. Every time we get an eight count, I will come out swinging even harder for our kids. This is what higher education in Blackfeet country has awakened in me, and there is no turning back now."

    Reprinted with permission from Tribal College Journal of American Indian Higher Education, a quarterly magazine published at P.O. Box 720, Mancos CO 81328. For information call 1-888-899-6693, email [email protected], or see the website at
    Don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear... just sing, sing a song.sigpic

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