Assistant Research Professor
Center for American Indian and Rural Health Equity
Montana State University
Vernon is an enrolled member of the Amskapipikuni (Blackfeet) Nation. His Indian name is Soyohkotsii (Charging in the Water). Vernon was born and raised in Browning, MT on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. He has 6 siblings, three brothers and three sisters. Vernon’s mother worked for the tribe her entire life. However, his dad worked jobs between the tribe and school district ending his career with the tribe. Vernon’s family lived outside of town and he has memories of being outside every day playing sports, riding horses, and spending time with family.
During a critical time in Vernon’s life, his parents divorced and his mother got sick. Happening almost simultaneously was the passing of his paternal grandparents a little over a year apart. This was a very difficult time in Vernon’s life where he turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with the uncertainty. The one thing that kept Vernon in school was basketball. He played varsity for Browning as a sophomore and junior. Unfortunately, things got so bad his junior year after basketball season he dropped out of school. After nearly 8 months of running the streets and landing in and out of jail, he tried out for the basketball team his senior year. Because of all the trouble Vernon had gotten in to since the end of the previous basketball season, the coach cut him. The only thing that kept him in school was now gone, so he dropped out again and was hanging around Browning doing nothing with his life and working spot jobs for a quick buck. As a consequence of running the streets, he developed an intense interest in boxing and began
training everyday despite the consistent drug and alcohol addiction. After several years of struggling and working spot jobs, Vernon worked his way in to a custodian position with the school district at the elementary school. In December 2003, this fast lifestyle resulted in the death of one of Vernon’s best friends. During his passing, Vernon contemplated life and realized that he had seen enough to last a lifetime and was done with drinking and drugging. That was a turning point in his life—during the services he decided he was going to get sober after the funeral. Vernon buried his bro December 28, 2003 and has been sober since that date.
After making a hard decision to give up his custodian job as it helped support his mother’s household, he enrolled at Blackfeet Community College and began boxing competitively for the Blackfeet Nation Boxing Club. At this point in Vernon’s life he got serious about education and boxing graduating with an AA in Elementary Education from BCC, transferring to the University of Montana earning a BS in Health Enhancement while winning several boxing titles, including the 2007 Montana State Golden Gloves Championships. Vernon attended graduate school while at UM earning his MS in Exercise Science and then transitioned in to his PhD program in 2010. In 2015, Vernon completed all requirements for an Interdisciplinary PhD in Exercise Science and Community Health. Vernon’s dissertation focused on increasing physical activity in Native American children through implementing a recess intervention that included four-square, nine-square, hop-scotch, and competitive games. After earning his PhD, Vernon obtained a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health. Vernon worked with his mentor, Dr. Alexandra Adams and her research team on an obesity prevention intervention for Native American families with young children titled “Healthy Children Strong Families.” This experience has helped shape Vernon’s research interest on the importance of sleep. Vernon is currently working under Dr. Adams at Montana State University as an Assistant Research Professor in the Center for American Indian and Rural Health Equity. In the past few years, Vernon has been studying sleep, physical activity, screen time, and weight patterns in Native American children living in urban and rural/reservation locations. This work has shown that children do not get adequate nightly sleep. Vernon has submitted grant applications to fund a project in his home community of Browning, MT to increase sleep in K-1 st grade children. Vernon is dedicating his career to doing research that benefits tribal communities, produces employment opportunities, and elicits positive change. Vernon is the father of four girls.