Shawnee Real Bird, Crow and Cheyenne, will soon become the first female Native American from a Montana tribe to obtain a commercial pilot’s license. Photo courtesy Shawnee Real Bird

Tribal Achiever Series: Shawnee Real Bird takes to the skies

Shawnee Real Bird, age 21, will soon become the first female Native American from any Montana tribe to obtain a commercial pilot's license. A proud Crow and Cheyenne she applies tribal tradition to her modern day way of life.

“Being a pilot has to be a part of you. Like a cowboy with his special horse," she says. "It’s something spectacular but challenging; it is like life and we can all learn to fly in our own way.”

Soon, Shawnee will graduate from Naples Air Center in Florida. A year and more of rigorous training will yield an Instructor's License for fixed wing aircrafts: she already is a private pilot and instrument rated with interest in also flying helicopters.

Next will be her Multi-Engine aircraft license, which will allow her to one day fly larger aircraft as a commercial airline pilot. Although she could soon begin her career in private contracting aviation, Shawnee believes the best way to become a great pilot is to be able to teach the gift of flight to others.

220 Hours as pilot in command and a private pilot liscence, 365 days sure flys by 😉 can’t wait to see what the next year in FL brings!

Posted by Shawnee Real Bird on Sunday, September 22, 2019

One day she dreams of bringing aviation back to her reservation. She thinks if youngsters on the reservation could just go on one discovery flight with another Native American at the controls they might be able to see themselves doing something similar.

“Being a pilot, being in control, seeing the world from above, has allowed me to realize there’s a force much stronger than the drugs, alcohol, and traumas that once surrounded me. I want kids to see it from God’s angle above - to understand that from 4,000 feet in the sky their problems look like specs of dust, something that isn’t necessarily easy to overcome but rather doable.”

Shawnee’s life was not easy. Born and raised Crow, she also surrounded herself with her Northern Cheyenne family, attending school in Hardin, St. Labre, and Colstrip, spending much of her life with grandparents, family, and close friends raising her.

“Shawnee was abandoned as a little girl, due to alcohol.” noted Crow grandfather Henry Real Bird. “We did our best to teach her to be strong and proud, like the Real Bird family and our people, to respect our ways. When she decides to do something, she gets it done. She’s always been proud to be an Indian.”

At a young age, Shawnee participated in the Crow Sun Dance, praying to know God’s plan for her, hoping to break the vicious cycle of alcoholism, teenage pregnancy, and hopelessness that often affects young Native women on the reservation.

“Maybe I had to go a hard way to learn some lessons but I try my best not to regret that," Shawnee says. "Each day is new, I wouldn’t be who I am without stumbling a few times and learning that Creator made me tough enough to stand up again.”

As a youngster, Shawnee stood out as a sizable young woman. At 6’1 and not small in build, she towered over her classmates. Yet it became a blessing, in grade school and middle school Shawnee was the only girl to play Montana AAU football, her team won the AAU state championships two years back to back and she was a star tackle, often to the surprise of her opponents. Her uncle Tuff Harris, also Crow played for the NFL, coached and encouraged her to excel on and off the field.


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