The American Indian Graduate Magazine Fall 2020

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fall 2020

2020 Census: Counting All of Indian Country American Indian Graduate Center Alumnus Reclaims his Narrative Being an Auntie for Others Recognizing Native Voices in Politics Our Complex Selves: Reflecting on Representation and Native Creatives Creating Space as a Native Academic Tools for Navigating Higher Education Making the Grad: 2020 Students of the Month

The American Indian Graduate Volume 19, Number 1, Fall 2020

Message from the Executive Director .................................................................................. 3 2020 Census: Counting All of Indian Country .................................................................... 7 by Toya Stewart Downey American Indian Graduate Center Alumnus Reclaims his Narrative ............................. 11 by Alastair Lee Bitsóí Being an Auntie for Others ..................................................................................................... 16 By Jordan Dresser Recognizing Native Voices in Politics ................................................................................... 19 by Amerra Webster Our Complex Selves: Reflecting on Representation and Native Creatives ................ 23 by Megan Red Shirt-Shaw Creating Space as a Native Academic .................................................................................. 26 by Justin Lund Tools for Navigating Higher Education ................................................................................ 33 by Jeanna Ford Making the Grad: 2020 Students of the Month ................................................................. 37 by Sara LaBarge

The American Indian Graduate Volume 19, Number 1 A Publication of American Indian Graduate Center 3701 San Mateo Blvd. NE, Suite 200 Albuquerque, NM 87110 Phone: (505) 881-4584 Fax: (505) 884-0427 Website: Publisher Angelique Albert Executive Director Executive Editor Sara LaBarge Contributing Editor Lindsay Mahaney Graphic Designer Laboraex Abeita Board of Directors Holly Cook Macarro President Red Lake Band of Ojibwe Walter Lamar Vice President Blackfeet, Witchita Aurene M. Martin Secretary/Treasurer Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Joel Frank, Sr. Seminole Tribe of Florida

Contact Us Mailing List: Sign up on our website to receive future issues. Advertising: To advertise in The American Indian Graduate, please send an e-mail to: Reprints and Permissions: Reprints of published articles and/or artwork are prohibited without permission of American Indian Graduate Center. American Indian Graduate Center, 3701 San Mateo Blvd. NE, Albuquerque, NM 87110, (505) 881-4584 phone, (505) 884-0427 fax. Visit us online! © 2020 AIGC, Inc. All rights reserved. Published submissions and advertisements do not necessarily reflect the views of AIGC, Inc.


the american indian graduate | fall 2020 |

Stacy Leeds Cherokee Nation Ernie Stevens, Jr. Oneida Nation of Wisconsin Dana Arviso Diné Hud Oberly Comanche/Osage/Caddo Cover Image: Kimberly Teehee Cherokee Nation

message from the executive director Celebrating 50 Years

Xẹst Sx̣lx̣alt (Good Day)! It ispleased a pleasure and an honor to this be writing you just a fewofshort away from American I’m to welcome you to very special edition The weeks American th Anniversary Gala: AofNation of Scholars on March 25, 2020 from 6 Indian Graduate Graduate Magazine, Center’s 50which Indian features stories our pursuit for visibilto 9inPM the Coasterra Event Center and Harbor Float in San Diego. ity thisat country. This momentous occasion honoring our 50-year legacy will bring together hundreds of

Just a few short weeks ago, American Indian Graduate Center was honored American Indian Graduate Center alumni and leaders throughout Indian Country. Featuring to share some incredible news: MacKenzie Scott (formerly Bezos) gifted $20 performances from our talented community of scholars and alumni, this celebration helps million unrestrictedand funds to our organization. One of the greatest giftsundergraduate, a provideofscholarships academic support to students pursuing their graduate person can give isdegrees access to education, and this giftinducting will provide and professional across this Nation. Wegenerous will also be three prestigious alumni that forinaugural thousandsAmerican of NativeIndian scholars and transform landscape to our Graduate Centerthe Hall of Fame!of higher education for our people. The impact of this gift, not only on Native students Featured in this issue of Graduate a timeline but on Indian Country as American a whole, isIndian so profound thatMagazine we will feelisits effects of our incredible impact on American Indian and Alaska Native students pursuing education since the inception for generations to come.

of our organization in 1969. What started as a movement toward self-governance has grown into American Indian Graduate Center becoming The Center for Native Scholarships.

So, what does this mean for visibility?

Day) I could not be more proud of American Indian Graduate Center and the alt (GoodDirector, Aslx̣Executive X̣est Sx̣ American Indian Graduate n for Visibility remains accomplishments as pressing an issue ever. Historically ourn people have occasio ntous me many wonderful ofas our scholars and daw alumni over the years – from Larry Echo mo a of the at you to tingcolonization, assimilation policies legacy. American Indian to be honor an ud of our re and faced with generations of wri violent are proGeneral pleasu Hawk (Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma) being elected the first Native State in 50-year weAttorney ips, It is abeen rsh ola Sch tive Na for ter Cen th Anniversary! As the million since inception. 50 our U.S. history to Shayna Begay (Navajo Nation) serving ondisproportionate the the0Mars thanof$20 – loss. and Today our communities continue to experience moreteam Center ly andsafety ualflight ann ips rsh ola sch in lion mil d $15 rdeeducation, ter awa Rover Curiosity Program. Our scholars have the opportunity to attain higher education, better te Cen access to healthcare, home ownership and employment — not Gradua duate Center and of American ud motivation their lives and give back to their Tribal communities. They are the inspiration for Indian Gra re proand mo be to mention our culture being appropriated throughout mainstream media not ld cou I , ion zat ani package you will org incredible thiswatching r ofand education Dir the work thatecto we them flourish in their educational journey is an. Enclosed in this herbeyond ivepeople cut g higand suin As Exe pur s ent and our aredonot equally represented in politics, academia, creative stud tive Na g year we are erin is Th pow em programs. tow s made as entsuccess indicator of our anard organization hm omplis the acc scholars, alumni, partners and ful der won circles and more. our ips and hts rsh hlig ola hig sch ich in 2019 Annual Report, wh within more than $14.55 million find our Nationsthat 202 g ntin American Indian Graduate Center was founded on the principles rese rep rs ola sch 40 ported 1,3provider to Native students in the As the largest scholarship United States, thes.legacy American e sup to hav student thrilled Native ds of the neeequal ress order toGraduate be fullydes society, we be afforded opportuniy tomust cificall spe ignedisin Indian Center most proud ofadd is our alumni. On behalf of American Indian Graduate ices included ic serv academ . I am always ties to achieve In the past 50like years, we have toward equal Center’s Boardour of goals. Directors, I would to extend a worked warm invitation to scontinue celebrating their highest career ambitions to achieve student ers pow em and s side age Pre our ted enc ter us in supporting elec Director nt of the opportunities and by Join awarding $15 million in scholarships annually Cen Angelique Albert, Executive rp was thatanlegacy with usvisibility thiste year. Native students today, tomorrow andnfor the dua Sha Gra Faw Indian Americ accomplish. This year,Confederated can i mn alu logy’s Tribal and rs ola TechnoTribes Salish & Kootenai sch & al es ioninception to more than 16,000 Native students next 50wh years! and $350 million since except ool of Min at our at d over amaze n served as South Dakota Sch rma He e ive Director of Jad cut s, Exe ian as Ind ed an serv eric ney of Am pursuing higher ess education. al Congr y and Javier I. Kin Ital Nation in ip ntsh ista Ass ng chi ng them flourish in their Fulbright Tea Lemlmtš (Thank You), for the work we do and watchi liaison, Bo Shimmin earned a tion tiva mo and ion irat insp ents are the studgenerous be. Ouofr this ion. programming to help bridge the opportunity gap zatcurrent rok With theTri support gift, we have the opportunity as to leverage our an organi the Yu Angelique Albert is an indicator of our success ond bey and y rne jou al ion cat Native students not just today, but for generations to come. Last year alone, the collective unmet need of ourola edufor scholarship recipients Executive Director et need of our sch rship unmwere ectivewho the coll ne, alo 9 201 totaled over $25 million and beyond that there was an additional 90% of Native students unable to receive funding In e. don be mentioatn all. While to t k success, there is still wor ian Graduate Center. No to s ofcompletely adenot decmay erican Ind Am Despit from t por sup ng thisegift bridge the gap, it brings us that much closer to realizing our mission and vision to fulfill the unmet need of every eivi rec us r ero afte gen n eve urces. Your nts totaled over $25 million recipie unable fund due to a lack of reso e wer we o Native student pursuing higher education. wh s ent stud tive Na there is an additional 90% of through college. e empowering students to and tinu con to us w allo ns utio trib con ter’s Cen Graduatethat Thanks to the generous support of MacKenzie Scott, American Indian Graduate Center can continue our to empower remaining Indian an work journey. On behalf of Americ our of s step 0 t 202 nex 25, the in rch us la ontoMa 90%, giving them the opportunitytotojoin embark on their higher education journeys our and the their Tribal communities. Gaback Anniversatorygive 50thadvantage As we look ahead, we invite you in celebrating at join us politicians, ips and ion tolawyers, olaisrsh itatNative schlist ethe inv vid this pro ept ps acc hel We have the opportunity to empower future doctors, writers, creatives, scientists — endless. With our nt ase eve ple is rs, Th ecto go. Board of Dir rbor Float in San Die Ha and . ter tion Na Cen nt this Eve oss rra acr aste rees and I am here to change the world.” degvisible support theatsupport this generous gift, these bright minds willdua to say, “I am the Coof ional PM 6 to 9and te and profess from gra be empowered pursuing their undergraduate, academic support to students ry Native student pursuing d of eve al neeI invite financi We are committed to fulfilling the unmet need of everyeffo Native student theetUnited States. you to join us as we continue to pave the unm ill across fulf to rts our in ter Cen duate ian Gra an Ind t Am por the way for eric visibility today, tomorrow and for generations to come. Sup ow and for the next 50 years. orr tom ay, tod ion cat edu higher ank You), lmtš (Th Lem Lemlmtš (Thank You),

Angelique Albert ert gelique Alb An ector Executive Director cutive Dir Exe

the american indian graduate | fall 2020 |


About the Writers Originally from Naschitti, Navajo Nation, New Mexico, Alastair Lee Bitsóí is Diné. He is an award-winning journalist, freelance writer and the communications director for Utah Diné Bikéyah. In addition to being a writer, Alastair also offers media and cultural sensitivity training for Non-Native media outlets, philanthropic organizations and environmental allies, which write about Indigenous-led land conservation efforts and Indigenous Peoples from the Bears Ears region. He has a Master of Public Health from New York University College of Global Public Health and is an alumnus of Gonzaga University. Alastair resides between Dinétah (Navajo Nation) and Salt Lake City, ancestral lands of the Goshute, Ute and Shoshone peoples.

Toya Stewart Downey is an enrolled member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe (Minn.). She is an award-winning journalist who has worked at major newspapers across the country including, The Dallas Morning News. In 2006 she was a recipient of a scholarship from American Indian Graduate Center. She attended the University of Minnesota and earned a Master of Arts Degree in Health Journalism, with a minor in Public Health. After graduating, Toya transitioned from a career in journalism to work in communications, public relations and media relations in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. She is currently the Director of Communications and Inclusion at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts.

Jordan Dresser is a member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe located on the Wind River Indian Reservation in central Wyoming. He is an American Indian Graduate Center Alumnus who graduated from the University of Wyoming with a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism and a Master of Arts degree in museum studies from the University of San Francisco. Dresser currently serves as the Collections Manager for the Northern Arapaho Tribal Historic Preservation Office in Riverton, Wyoming. He is also a filmmaker and his latest film, The Art of Home: a Wind River Story, aired on PBS stations and was nominated for an Emmy.

Jeanna Ford is an American Indian Graduate Center Alumna who was funded for both her master’s degree and a doctorate degree in nursing. She works as a palliative care provider caring for seriously ill patients at Presbyterian Healthcare Services in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Without American Indian Graduate Center’s support and funding, Jeanna said she would not have been able to obtain her higher education degrees nor have the nursing career. She is beyond grateful for their support and belief in her ability.

Justin Lund (Diné) is an American Indian Graduate Center Scholar, PhD Candidate and molecular anthropologist at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma, where he currently resides. Lund is originally from various places in Arizona, but calls Ganado, Arizona, home because that’s where his mom lives. Lund’s work and research aims to incorporate Indigenous perspectives and voices into science.

Megan Red Shirt-Shaw (Oglala Lakota) is currently pursuing her PhD in Organizational Leadership, Policy and Development with a focus on Higher Education and a minor in American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota. Prior to her PhD program, she worked in undergraduate admissions, college access and college counseling. Megan is an American Indian Graduate Center Alumna. She currently teaches and advises at the 7th Gen Summer Program.

Amerra Webster is an enrolled member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. She is a 2019 graduate of Dartmouth College and an American Indian Graduate Center Scholars recipient of the 2015 Gates Millennium Scholarship. Residing on the Flathead Indian Reservation, Amerra serves her Tribe through the Lead For America Fellowship.


Special thanks to our strategic partners for their continued support: Accenture

Murdock Charitable Trust

American Indian Science and Engineering Society

NDN Collective

American Indigenous Business Leaders


American Indian College Fund

Northwestern University


Poarch Band of Creek Indians

APIA Scholars


Big Fire Law

Rincon Band of LuiseĂąo Indians

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Salish Kootenai College

Blue Stone Strategy Group

Sandia National Laboratories

Bureau of Indian Education

San Manuel Band of Mission Indians


Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community



Hispanic Scholarship Fund

United National Indian Tribal Youth Inc.

Indigenous Education Inc.

Wells Fargo the american indian graduate | fall 2020 |



Fawn Sharp - AIGC Alumna Quinault Indian Nation

the american indian graduate | fall 2020 |

2020 Census: Counting All of Indian Country By: Toya Stewart Downey American Indian Graduate Center Alumna

Tribal nations and Native organizations across the United States have been taking Herculean steps to ensure the 2020 Census reflects as many citizens of Indian Country as possible. It has not been an easy feat considering the world was impacted by the novel coronavirus pandemic earlier this year, which halted everything and forced mankind to collectively pivot. Still, that hasn’t stopped the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the National Urban Indian Family Coalition (NUIFC) and the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) from continuing to push the message that the 2020 Census is still underway. “This year is critically important for Tribal citizens to be counted,” said Fawn Sharp (Quinault Indian

Nation), President of NCAI and American Indian Graduate Center Alumna. “Tribal nations have long pressed Congress to fully fund us, so not only do we want to ensure every citizen is counted, we want to ensure that we get the funding we need.” Sharp said Indian Country is “chronically and widely underfunded,” which makes this year’s Census count even more critical than in previous decades. Typically, the Census has been completed by now, but COVID19 effectively halted operations related to this decade’s population

count. Though society is still in the midst of the pandemic, efforts were amped up over the summer to get the count completed by October. “There’s a major disconnect between the federal agencies’ budget process and aligning those budgets and budget requests with actual numbers in Indian Country,” Sharp said. “There’s a large divergence between the Tribal communities and the budgetary appropriation. We’re not even at our fullest potential in numbers so as we continue to provide for citizens, it’s important that everyone is counted to

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messages and engage citizens, the pandemic hit. “At least 90 percent of the Urban Indian organizations had planned in-person events and powwows to gather in-person census,” Comenote said. “Then, just as quickly as the pandemic happened, we all had to move into virtual spaces. A lot of those plans weren’t stopped, but were interrupted as everyone tried to figure out how to do this virtually.” One massive win was the longtime partnership her organization has with Comcast. The cable TV giant offered to create a 30-second public service announcement which would air in 30 markets. Additionally, there was already a robust push on both Facebook and Twitter.

Janeen Comenote Quinault Indian Nation

understand the number of citizens we serve and the services we need.” That’s what makes the collaboration among the three organizations -- NCAI, NUIFC and NARF -so important. Both individually and collectively, each entity is making strides in their efforts to increase awareness about the 2020 Census while encouraging participation throughout the nation. According to NUIFC’s website, “This partnership’s strength comes from its historic reach. Both the NCAI and NARF have built generational trust with Tribal governments and officials around the country -- which will enhance the NUIFC’s work with Tribal members in urban areas to create comprehensive Census coverage in all 50 states.” The confidential data collected on the Census has great impacts--in8

cluding political representation, federal funding and public policy. Some of the barriers to getting an accurate count are language, geography and access to technology. Janeen Comenote (Quinault Indian Nation), Executive Director of NUIFC, said her organization started gearing up over a year ago by articulating what needed to happen and figuring out the “how.” The organization’s theme is, “Making the Invisible Visible.” NUIFC made their message clear when they awarded grants to 22 different Urban Indian organizations across the country to help them create opportunities for civic engagement around the Census. The plan was in place to create a recording-breaking engagement with Native peoples across the United States. Then, as the groups were supposed to push out

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“Those platforms allow for pictures and videos which means you can engage differently and it connects us to our reservation relatives,” she added. “We also created memes and filmed a public service announcement in Seattle.” Besides the national public service announcement, there are billboards in cities like Phoenix, Arizona, and Tulsa and Oklahoma City in Oklahoma. Signs at bus stops in Alaska and Oklahoma also encourage

“Some Tribes contribute their own resources because they know how critically important it is.” - Fawn Sharp Census 2020 participation. “The undercount for Native Americans isn’t typically in the urban areas, but on reservations,” Comenote said. To help, the organization has been working hard to make sure the Census was translated into differ-

ent languages. Additionally, populations both on and off reservations are working together, Comenote added. Sharp said the organization has been directly consulting with Tribal nations to assist with planning. “It’s critically important that we’re able to consult and that Census workers implement the counting of numbers, along with the planning and collection of data,” she said. “Some Tribes contribute their own resources because they know how critically important it is.” Sharp added while Tribal nations have variances, they are all very connected in states and across the country. “We know each other and we know our neighbors, so when [unknown] people come and want to ask very

“We are hoping to get a good Census count, so we have good numbers. Everyone needs to participate and help their neighbors participate.” - John Echohawk in-depth questions, there’s some hesitancy,” she said. “There is data that may be lost if the questions aren’t asked and answered just right. We have to get this right, so we don’t trip up our funding.” The Census also has a huge impact on voting rights, said John Echohawk, (Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma) and Executive Director of NARF. Echohawk said the collaboration among the organizations helps get the message out far and wide, but it also means they can promote both the Census and the 2020 Get Out the Vote efforts at the same time.

John Echohawk Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma

“In 2013, Shelby County versus the State Attorney, gutted the Voting Rights Act -- the procedure that prevented states from passing more discriminatory laws,” Echohawk said. “Since that provision is no longer in effect, states started doing whatever they wanted. It meant they started passing laws to discriminate against voters.” The organization and others have had to challenge the changes in federal courts. This process takes time and money, but it also helps to work with other organizations to raise awareness throughout Indian Country. “In terms of voting rights and how it relates to the Census, it means that redistricting can happen based on new population figures,” Echohawk said. “That means reallocation can happen and then states can redraw boundaries, redistrict and then that

results in gerrymandering.” “It splits up Native votes,” he added. “We are hoping to get a good Census count, so we have good numbers. Everyone needs to participate and help their neighbors participate.” He cautions an undercount means Indian Country won’t get as much money as it should since federal funding is based on population counts. The federal government directs nearly $1 billion in resources per year to Indian Country using Census data. The money helps fund schools, health, housing, roads and more. Having a more accurate count helps ensure government resources are equitably distributed and some say it holds the government accountable for its promises.

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the american indian graduate | fall 2020 |


American Indian Graduate Center Alumnus Reclaims his Narrative By: Alastair Lee Bitsóí American Indian Graduate Center Alumnus Growing up in the Inland Northwest, American Indian Graduate Center Alumnus Jeff Ferguson (Spokane Tribe) experienced the racism, bullying and historical trauma that often limits Indigenous people from living a quality of life and achieving higher education. Despite these challenges, Ferguson realized his higher education goals. But to get there, he first had to reclaim his narrative from childhood.

Spokane Tribe and American Indian Graduate Center, which helped reduce his financial burden and empowered him to reach his goal of getting his degrees debt-free.

a high school dropout, as well as the resentment he held toward his mother and late father for his cultural identity issues of being Salish, English, Spanish and Italian.

Reclaiming truths has been Ferguson’s life journey. It is part of the major reason he is now the News Director for Inland Northwest Native News and a freelance photojournalist, as well as why he graduated this past spring with a Master of Business Administration in American Indian Entrepreneurship from Gonzaga University.

“We have horrific histories as Indigenous people, but we are each our own beacon of resiliency, which comes from the strong bloodlines of our ancestors,” he said. “American Indian Graduate Center helped me fund my graduate program at Gonzaga.”

Forgiveness, Ferguson says, was key to some of his life changes. He first had to forgive his mother for her mistakes in raising him; he came to understand her shortcomings as a parent were likely the result of her having lived through the termination era and boarding school. As a child, he had to step-up to support her with finances. This responsibility caused Ferguson to grow up faster that his peers. This also meant he did not get the nurturing he wanted and needed from his mom.

Prior to Gonzaga, he enrolled at Spokane Community College for his associate degree in photography and thereafter achieved a bachelor’s degree in communications from Whitworth College. In addition to working odd hours to make ends meet as a single father, he secured scholarships from his


Ferguson makes it seem easy, right? It depends how one views his story. There are many episodes in Ferguson’s life which would probably keep an average person in the trenches of his or her misery. Instead of blaming his past though, Ferguson first had to investigate the cause of some of his triggers directly influencing his behavior. This required him to reconcile his past of being

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“She did not know how to get into college, and I resented her for that,” Ferguson said, adding he was also targeted by high school

“It allowed me closure but led me to the giant loop due to the work I do – historical documentarian videography,” Ferguson said. His documentary eventually inspired him to enroll at Whitworth College and establish the Inland Northwest Native News, a news outlet dedicated to covering Indigenous issues of the Inland Northwest. Since creating his news network, Ferguson has covered some high-profiled stories in Indian Country like Standing Rock, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and the use of Natives as mascots. “Being able to give back to Indian Country and tell people’s stories, I did not think it would be important to tell stories,” Ferguson says. “A lot of them are traumatic but there’s lots of triumph for Indian people. The Native people here today are survivors from strong bloodlines.”

Jeff Ferguson - AIGC Alumnus Spokane Tribe

counselors as the kid creating trouble because of his brown skin. He also had to forgive the bullies in high school, who taunted him for his proud and resilient identity as an enrolled member of the Spokane Tribe. The bullying often made Ferguson ashamed of his Indigenous identity, which only heightened the pervasive racism between his people and Spokane’s majority white population. “Bullying is something that is hard to describe - it happens,” Ferguson said, before adding, “We, as Indian people, are bullied for anything that we do.” Because of these experiences and other factors, Ferguson moved away from Spokane and the Inland Northwest, until his life changed for the better in 2009 at 37 years old. This is when he learned his mother, who had become ill and nearly died from laying

on the floor for three days with no emergency care, had advised him to enroll back into college for a chance at better opportunities and quality of life. At this point in life, the U.S. economy had crashed. “It was bad. I needed to do something else and that was a good time to go to school,” Ferguson said, while reflecting on his career, which had ranged from sales to real estate. In school at Spokane Community College, Ferguson began his healing process. By this time, he created a documentary exploring the sexual abuse scandal of his community. His late father’s suicide in 1977 was directly related to what he found – his father was sexually abused by a local priest at boarding school. Not just his father, but several dozen Native children. Discovering this helped Ferguson understand some of his own traumas throughout the years.

Now finished with his MBA, Ferguson sees the limitless opportunities ahead. For instance, he’s becoming more known across Indian Country and in demand for his creative skills. He’s secured gigs, for instance, with the National Indian Education Association and Eastern Washington University as a videographer. He also established a nonprofit organization tasked with empowering Native youth to nurture healthy lifestyles and families. Ferguson’s most recent work as an artist reclaims the real history of the city of Spokane. Along with Native artist Smoker Marchand, Ferguson installed a metal fisherman piece called “A Place of Truths Plaza,” on the Spokane River. The river is a cultural resource and water system of the Spokane people. The art installation has allowed Ferguson to reclaim his presence in the community he pushed away as a teenager. When it comes to offering advice to students like him, Ferguson advised to never, ever give up. If your dreams are still manifesting in the mind, go for it, he said. “The difference is to keep going. I did not ace all my classes. However, I did not think it was beyond my reach. Anyone can do it, just as long as you endure. Set your goals.”

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the american indian graduate | fall 2020 |

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Shelly Wahpepah - AIGC Alumna Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma, Absentee-Shawnee Tribe of Indians

Being an Auntie for Others By: Jordan Dresser American Indian Graduate Center Alumnus


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The power of an auntie is magnetic. They pull you into their world and make you never want to leave. That’s what American Indian Graduate Center Alumna Shelly Wahpepah’s auntie did for her and it sparked a passion for higher education. As a little girl, Wahpepah (Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma, Absentee-Shawnee Tribe of Indians) would travel with relatives as they drove one of her aunties to college. Watching her auntie thrive and embrace the campus world lit a fire inside Wahpepah. “I thought it was the coolest thing,” she said. “She was the cool auntie. I wanted to be like her.” And that’s what she did. Wahpepah earned a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from the University of Central Oklahoma and a Master of Arts in human relations with a focus in cultural awareness from the University of Oklahoma. Having this human connection is important to Wahpepah and she uses her degrees to spark change in her community. But in order to have a larger impact, she would need some help. She would need the help of a few other aunties. In 2019, Wahpepah and her friends were disturbed with the stories of migrant children being separated from their families and being held in Fort Sill, Texas, which was once a Native boarding school. It made her think about her mother who attended boarding school. Throughout North America, Indian boarding schools removed Indian children from their families, and taught them to abandon their cultural ways. It caused generational trauma which still affects Native communities today. Wahpepah knew it was time to do something.

Within two weeks, a board made up of Native women from across the country was established and the group secured non-profit status. And they had a name: the Auntie Project. Their Facebook page reads: “We are Aunties. Aunties play a special role throughout the community in Native American and Indigenous cultures. We provide comfort and support, food and nourishment, advice and mentorship. We love children, and we believe we have a particular obligation to kids in need. We send love and support to all of the good Aunties out there working in their communities.” Hosting various events such as community carnivals and Facebook donation drives, in addition to their personal connections, the Auntie Project raised $20,000 for meals to service these children. “It just fell into place,” she said. “We wanted to do something.” This past spring, the Auntie Project also took on the COVID-19 pandemic. First, the group helped raise funds for students attending the Sovereign Community School in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Working with the Reginal Food Bank of Oklahoma, the group was able to provide food boxes to students who attend the Native charter school. Expanding their reach, the Auntie Project partnered with the Navajo Nation Department of Family Services. In early June, the Navajo Nation Department of Health reported 5,533 confirmed COVID- 19 cases with 252 deaths, making it one of the Tribal nations hit the hardest. Springing into action, the Auntie Project quickly raised $10,000 to be used to buy supplies for families and children suffering from the virus.

“It just touched people’s hearts,” she said. Looking back, Wahpepah, who serves on the board, is proud to not only see how far they have come, but also how they are continuing a rich tradition of strong powerful Native aunties. “Everybody has that auntie that takes charge,” she said. “They just stand up and do something to help others” This is important to Wahpepah, because without the help of others, completing her higher education goals and dreams wouldn’t have been possible. With her mother’s help, Wahpepah learned how to balance her school work, a full time job at the University of Oklahoma Office of the Senior Vice President and Provost where she worked as the receptionist while also raising her two sons. The bonds with her children grew as she explained to them her long term goals and how education was going to benefit the whole family. “I wanted to improve our lives,” she said. “This was for them.” In 1998, Wahpepah’s hard work, dedication and sacrifice paid off as she finally completed her graduate work. She dedicated her degree to her mother who also has graduated from college. Wahpepah admired her mother’s drive and determination to earn her degrees while juggling parenting, working and life. “She was proud because of everything I went through,” she said. “She was encouraging and it made me realize that I have the strength to do this.”

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“Education is important. It’s something that no one can take away from you.” - Shelly Wahpepah It’s a confidence she passes on to the new Native students entering the University of Oklahoma campus. In 2017, Native students made up 4.1 percent of the total population at OU. Wahpepah is now the staff assistant in the same department she started 25 years ago. She has also served as an advisor to the Native led campus organizations such as Gamma Delta Pi, which is one of the nation’s few Native American sororities. But most of all, she has become a source of strength, support and encouragement to these students. “We just try to provide a home away from home,” she said. “Just to have a shoulder to lean on.” Wahpepah stays in touch with the students after they graduate. Recently, one of them reached out to her and thanked Wahpepah for helping her finish her degree and provide a place


where she felt supported as a Native. In return, Wahpepah told the student it was now time to pay it forward and help any Native students she encounters throughout her career. “Maybe you can help them,” she said. “Education is important. It’s something that no one can take away from you.” While she has mixed feelings when the students graduate, she is always greeted with a new batch of Native students ready to attain a degree. Sometimes she meets students who are attending school with help from American Indian Graduate Center, which was support she also received while she was in school. “It’s a…circle,” she said. “They (the students) keep growing” For her own personal future, Wahpepah

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is a little unsure what she wants to do next. She is dedicated to the students who attend the University of Oklahoma and hates to leave them but she also yearns for more. She has started toying with the idea of going back to school to earn a PhD or a law degree. It’s this dedication and passion for higher education that she hopes her three grandchildren pick up just like she did while watching her auntie and mother attend school. “It’s always your choice,” she said. “It’s up to you and what you want to do with your life. I’m just hoping something clicks for them.” But for now, Wahpepah is content being the auntie she always aspired to be. “Everybody has an auntie,” she said. “They keep you going. (They are) kind of a power source.”

Recognizing Native Voices in Politics By: Amerra Webster American Indian Graduate Center Scholar

As the COVID-19 pandemic wreaks havoc across the United States, Native communities are facing disproportionate impacts and the need for Native political visibility and advocacy has become even greater in order to ensure Tribes are not only considered but are justly included within federal responses. Alvin Warren, Benny Shendo Jr., Kimberly Teehee and Susan Allen are among countless Native leaders who are using their political knowledge and platforms to advocate for competent COVID-19 responses in Indian Country. When asked about where their journey of service and advocacy on behalf of Tribes began, they each point to the instances in which they knew their life calling was service. American Indian Graduate Center Alumnus Alvin Warren (Pueblo of Santa Clara) serves as the Vice President of Career Pathways and Advocacy at the Las Alamos National Laboratory Foundation and previously as a Lieutenant Governor of his Pueblo and Cabinet Secretary of Indian Affairs for the State of New Mexico. A pivotal moment for him, he recalled, was when his paternal grandmother passed away. Having already decided that he wanted to return to his community after college, Warren questioned how he could be of service to his community while he was still in college. Knowing he could offer his research skills to assist his Tribe in reclaiming land, Warren answered the call to serve, a strong feeling he described as, “This obligation, this responsibility, to go and to learn and to come

Alvin Warren - AIGC Alumnus Pueblo of Santa Clara

Photo by: Pam Warren

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back, to make a contribution.” For American Indian Graduate Center Alumna Kimberly Teehee (Cherokee Nation), it was the influence of her mentor Wilma Mankiller, the first woman Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. Mankiller encouraged her to pursue a path of political service and advocacy. Since then, Teehee has gone on to serve as the Senior Vice President of Government Relations for Cherokee Nation Businesses, Executive Director of Government Relations for the Cherokee Nation, newly appointed Cherokee Nation delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives and former Obama Administration appointee. “Wilma said to me, ‘Go off to DC and learn to do those things and bring the skillsets back because the Tribe will always be here,’ Teehee said, “and here I am.” Like Teehee, American Indian Graduate Center Alumna Susan Allen (Rosebud Sioux Tribe), an attorney who was the first Native woman to serve in the Minnesota state legislature from 2012 to 2019, was fortunate to grow up around and learn from influential Native leaders such as Dennis Banks and Vine Deloria Jr. as her parents moved throughout Indian Country to fight for social justice and religious freedom. Allen credits her service-minded parents for sparking her passions of service and advocacy: “All of that, I learned from my parents. I thought it was a powerful way of being, you were a part of the community and whatever you could offer you did and when asked to do something, you do.” Also following his family’s footsteps, Benny Shendo Jr., (Pueblo of 20

Kimberly Teehee - AIGC Alumna Cherokee Nation

“In the time of COVID is when we realize the visibility piece and the effort it takes to get included in a big comprehensive package… it requires all of us to yell collectively,” - Kimberly Teehee Jemez), current New Mexico State Senator as well as former first and second Lieutenant Governor of his Pueblo and Cabinet Secretary of Indian Affairs for the State of New Mexico,“I grew up in that environment knowing that my time was going to come,” he laughed. As civil servants and advocates, each has come to understand their political knowledge and visibility can be a powerful tool for Tribes, especially during the pandemic while some Tribes reach high infection rates in the thousands — like Navajo Nation which, at the time of writing this article, tallied almost 8,000. “I think the visibility of Native

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people is crucial at this time — both to understand the history of disinvestment, the history of neglect, that have led to the disproportionate impacts, but more importantly that individuals at every level of government are accountable for making sure Tribes are a part of every discussion in terms of recovery,” Warren said. Commenting on the Tribal COVID19 experience in New Mexico, Shendo Jr. explained, “We’re about 10 to 11 percent of the population but we represent almost 50 percent of COVID cases; that should tell you something… This pandemic, it magnified the issues that weren’t being addressed.”

pions within Congress were able to advocate for Tribal needs and secure $8 billion in Tribal funding which was a compromise compared to the initial $20 billion requested. However, full funding has still not been distributed to Tribes.

Susan Allen - AIGC Alumna Rosebud Sioux Tribe

Indeed, high infection rates are not by happenstance. Tribes have been historically underfunded and underserved by the U.S. government which has led to the invisibility of Native issues. This invisibility has led to disparities which have heightened COVID-19 impacts in Indian Country, such as: failing infrastructure, high levels of pre-existing conditions, inequities in healthcare quality, capacity and access, inadequate broadband access, potable water access and housing and food insecurity, among other factors. While news headlines made no mention of the unique struggles Natives faced in the wake of the pandemic, the first two COVID-19 economic relief packages released ignored Tribes. Native leaders and community-led volunteer efforts sought to make visible how and why COVID-19 was disproportionately impacting Tribal communities, yet Native communities were being erased through data. “It is disheartening but not surprising that when we started to finally hear about desegregation of data about who was being impacted by COVID, some of the very first figures coming out didn’t include Natives,” Warren said. “We were back in that ‘other’ category.”

Photo by: Mary Hanson Photography

COVID-19 data regarding Natives continues to be incomplete as data collection methods and racial classification protocol vary by jurisdiction. “In the time of COVID is when we realize the visibility piece and the effort it takes to get included in a big comprehensive package… it requires all of us to yell collectively,” Teehee said. Teehee commended organizations such as the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) for being able to assist Tribes in providing input to ensure there would be Tribal provisions included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Through a unified front, Tribal leaders, Tribal organizations and cham-

Benny Shendo Jr. Pueblo of Jemez

“When we’re given the resources to take care of our own…” Teehee said, “We stretch dollars and make the best use of our dollars than probably anybody because we are so underfunded.” She continued, “We have our champions and we lean on them greatly, but we need more champions.” “We don’t have the JLos and the Michael Jordans in our communities- not at that level. We rely on our elders, our parents and our elected leaders to be our mentors. We have to work harder to have an impact on people’s lives and hopefully somebody can see that person as their kind of JLo.” In addition to Native leaders utilizing their platform to inspire more Native political visibility, Warren added how important it is for Native people to believe in themselves and know they are capable to serve and lead by imparting wisdom he learned firsthand. “In a way, not all of us or maybe none of us have the full knowledge we need to enter these positions but we answer the call. That’s part of why we are still here as Native people — it is the sacrifice generations have made, they stepped forward to take on responsibilities that perhaps they didn’t believe they could handle themselves. With our beliefs, with the power of our prayer and everything we have in our cultures and the support of our people around us, we learn and we rise to the occasion.”

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Our Complex Selves: Reflecting on Representation and Native Creatives By: Megan Red Shirt-Shaw American Indian Graduate Center Alumna “What I have witnessed in the rooms I’ve been a part of and the things I see coming out now from Native Creatives who are now getting into these spaces and the industry, is we are getting more complex characters and we’re getting people who get to be flawed, but also (we) get to have the same human struggles everybody else does.” - Tazbah Rose Chavez As Indigenous people, we depend on community engagement, collective reckoning and healing through artwork, poetry, film and true histories about our Tribal communities. COVID-19 has challenged the creative process and engaging Indigenous ways of knowing on new platforms and venues virtually - across nations and experiences, in isolation and on long FaceTime calls with friends and collaborators. Thanks to American Indian Graduate Center , I had the opportunity to visit with four Native Creatives, through Zoom calls and the written word - Tazbah Rose Chavez, Hud Oberly, Tommy Orange and Crystal Echo Hawk - about Native representation in the current state of American culture and social movements.

Hud Oberly - AIGC Board Member Osage, Caddo and Comanche

Tribes. As a poet, writer and director, we visited about her years growing up on the Bishop Paiute reservation. Hud Oberly is an Osage, Caddo and Comanche creative and American Indian Graduate Center Board Member. While his journey started by working in film, he is now the Creative Director for Urban Native Era (UNE). UNE specializes in clothing design and content to increase the visibility of Indigenous Peoples.

Tommy Orange is a novelist and writer from Oakland, who is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma. He is also an American Indian Graduate Center Alumnus. As he works on new writing projects, he Tazbah Rose Chavez is a citizen of and his family are learning the Cheyenne the Bishop Paiute Tribe, and from the language from his father. Nüümü, Diné and San Carlos Apache


“Our existence is really inconvenient to a narrative that Americans want to tell about itself. And, so we represent something that this country has not wanted to look long as we keep fighting for equality and justice, I think representation will be all the better for it.” - Tommy Orange Crystal Echo Hawk is Pawnee and the founder and CEO of IllumiNative, a new nonprofit initiative designed to increase the visibility of – and challenge the negative narrative about – Native Nations and peoples in American society.

keep fighting for equality and justice, I think representation will be all the better for it.” These leaders of the written word, the shutter click and fight for Indigenous justice show as the American narrative of history continues to be questioned,

“Representation has improved...I think that also can be attributed to social media and media being expanded being able to reach more places and reach more people…(and) has really allowed representation to be more accurate and be increased.” This furthered ability to express oneself and create new and innovative ways of connection provides Native Creatives the space to express across different mediums of art and the spaces they occupy in the physical and digital world. Chavez moves between poetry and film. Orange started writing later in his life. Oberly has moved from film into fashion and believes in the possibility of change throughout his experiences. For the creative expressions of self and identity, perhaps the most powerful part of any journey is the path one takes to pursue it.

Crystal Echo Hawk Pawnee

Working across Tribal nations and mediums, these four leaders are pushing their movements forward in their fields for other Native people, who hope to contribute to these spaces as well. By creating genuine portrayals of Native people and culture within their own mediums and by their own agency, they are setting the stage for future generations to push for strong representation of Indigenous peoples. As Orange reflected “Our existence is really inconvenient to a narrative America wants to tell about itself. And, so we represent something this country has not wanted to look long as we


doors open to show complex stories about Native experiences. Before and through the worldwide pandemic, there exist new modes of expression across social media. Scrolling through the photography and collection rollouts on UNE, influencers and Native youth who love the brand can look into the lens with Oberly and UNE’s founder Joey Montoya (San Francisco Lipan Apache Tribe). From “You Are On Native Land” hats to hummingbird pins, UNE has created an international brand through its online platform, which Oberly has experienced personally in his own work.

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Native identity is and should be allowed to be complex, and as artists and advocates, as those who believe in their voice should have the opportunity to change their minds. As Chavez reflected: “I was studying for the LSAT one morning, I (thought) when I’m eighty (years old) on my porch - I’m not going to regret not going to law school. I’m not going to regret not getting my MBA, and I’m not going to regret not getting an MFA in poetry. But what I will regret, is I will regret never having tried to be a writer and an artist full time, because that was something that I just hadn’t given myself the opportunity to do.” Watching the videos Chavez directed as the Creative Director for B.Yellowtail’s marketing and the trailer for her AT&T lab film “Your Name Isn’t English.” her willingness to leap into her love of creating extends across her mediums of

“I think Native leadership is defined as a Native person representing themselves and their families and their nations at a high level while making a difference and being a person to look up to in the way that they’ve lived their life,” - Hud Oberly expression. Across these experiences of change, believing in the power of their perspectives as culture keepers, designers, writers and authentic Indigenous voices in mainstream media and culture can move the narrative. As Chavez reflected, the more normalized we become as writers and characters, the more complex our experiences become to viewers. In the written word and for many of us Tommy Orange’s “There There” was one of the first times we did. For so many Native people with urban experiences, we remember the first reads of Orange’s debut novel “There There” - on flights, or before we fell asleep, in our grandmother’s homes, or the city we loved. So rarely do we get to see versions of ourselves as urban people, and for many of us Orange’s universe was one of the first times we did. Despite the Pulitzer Prize nomination, Orange still faced choices about his Indigenous frame of reference. “You wrote the Native American (book) (suggesting) your next book is just going to be if writing with white characters is what I should be doing and I sort of did this weird detour thing and I can get back to writing about regular people. And I think, I feel like that’s such a huge reflection and representation and this idea that being a Native person in contemporary society, isn’t the normal thing, or just being a regular Native person isn’t normal either.” With every collective project that pushes forward, Native people work

All four referenced mentors who believed in and encouraged their work as reasons for being successful, from family members to other artists in their field or older mentors who knew it was their turn to pass the mic. When will the country that occupies our homelands allow us to celebrate the powerful complexities we occupy? “I think Native leadership is defined as a Native person representing themselves and their families and their nations at a high level while making a difference and being a person to look up to in the way they’ve lived their life,” Oberly shared. Tazbah Rose Chavez Bishop Paiute Tribe, Nüümü, Diné and San Carlos Apache Tribes

towards defining complex Native experiences. The more Indigenous voices can move towards being normalized and the creation of art becomes part of the mainstream conversation about community and expression, the better opportunity for future generations

As representation continues to be challenged, as monuments and memorials fall, and as the American public is awakened to the possibility of other perspectives, opportunities for new eras of leadership in Native representation continue to unfold. As Echo Hawk reflected, “(I hope) Native people are seen as fully realized, multi-dimensional human beings (and) it will no longer be unusual or unheard of to see Native peoples and voices in positions of power.”

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Creating Space as a Native Academic By: Justin Lund American Indian Graduate Center Scholar

Natives represent a small percentage of the US population. And we’re only a fraction of a percent of those who will choose to continue on to complete a doctoral program - meaning this space, the academy, is incredibly underrepresented by Natives and other Indigenous peoples. For those underrepresented folks who choose to pursue advance academics, this space can feel foreign and isolating. Regardless, the academy is where knowledge is created, legitimized and shared - and Natives must have a voice in that process. Over the past 10 years I have been an undergraduate, a master’s student, a PhD student and finally a doctoral candidate with little guidance. In December 2020, I will graduate for the last 26

time and begin the next leg of my academic journey as the Dr. Justin Lund. This major life transition forced me to wonder what might be next. Recently, I was able to talk with several American Indian Graduate Center Alumni and a Scholar about our experiences in hopes of gleaning some advice. Our varied and evolving journeys have instilled in us a responsibility for building and maintaining supportive networks for the

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Dr. Joshua Nelson - AIGC Alumnus Cherokee Nation

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Nelson said he was able to find a student community but finding a faculty community took more effort: “Native faculty are sometimes in very wildly disparate disciplines and so having a focused a conversation around research can be challenging. It took time to build that network and learn where to turn for what sorts of conversations.” Nelson’s last bit of advice for me expressed how his experience has fostered great optimism for Native futures. “I’m optimistic the more we are focused on telling our own stories, representing ourselves and setting our own policies we will want to draw on our own resources to do that, and we’ll need really well-trained educated people in those positions,” he said.

Dr. Corey Still - AIGCS Alumnus United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians

“It was those Native professors and allies that really allowed me to explore and challenged me to think critically from an Indigenous mindset.” - Dr. Corey Still future benefit of Native academics. Beyond practicing our fields, Native academics often feel a responsibility for maintaining a momentum of increased representation. This is true for American Indian Graduate Center Alumnus Dr. Joshua Nelson (Cherokee Nation), University of Oklahoma Associate Professor of English. He and I discussed there are many Native professionals who have found success in any number of fields, and how creating a pathway success for 28

all Natives is the ideal for the future and being adaptive is the key. “We are dramatically unrepresented and increasing representation has been one of my main focuses, particularly within the key areas we work: research, teaching, and service,” he said. “If we can connect those three areas with an eye towards increasing representation, we will see better results over time.” Reflecting his own experience,

Much of my conversations centered around the important benefits of having a Native academic network of mentors and peers. American Indian Graduate Center Scholar Alumnus Dr. Corey Still (United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians), who serves as American Indian Graduate Center’s Director of Scholarship Operations, believed much of his own success has been due to the kind encouragement of Native mentors and professors. For Still, beginning his career in academics with Natives by his side was a unique “privilege.” “I did my undergraduate degree in Native American Studies, so I was very fortunate to start my academic career in a space that favored and lifted Indigenous voices. The professors who influenced me the most were these strong Native scholars. That experience definitely placed me in a place of privilege because I was so fortunate to have the influence of

Catherine Montoya - AIGC Scholar Diné

these Natives- to talk to, to get on to me, to really become my academic aunties and uncles.” Still elaborated on this type of “privilege”. “It was those Native professors and allies who really allowed me to explore and challenged me to think critically from an Indigenous mindset. Obviously, my program forced me to think critically, but these professors really got me to think from an Indigenous perspective. They made me ask questions about what the intentionality behind certain research might be and what is the potential impact to our communities. Those very important concerns must be addressed and taught to future researchers, and all that can be overlooked without some Native representation in the process.”

“A very unique aspect of Tribal college is that we are expected and encouraged to incorporate aspects of our culture into our curriculum,” - Dr. Tyler Parisien individual paths. Dr. Tyler Parisien (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians of North Dakota), American Indian Graduate Center Alumnus, Professor and Medical Lab Technician Program Director at Turtle Mountain Community College openly shared his experience.

Parisien’s success and desire to give back to Native youth undoubtably comes from his long relationship with American Indian Graduate Center’s strategic partner, American Indian Science and Engineering Society, of which he has been a member since he was 12 years old. For many Natives we realize during the process of becomThese unwritten responsibilities of ing academics there is a true need for the Native academic can change our more stewards of the process.

Dr. Tyler Parisien - AIGC Alumnus Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians of North Dakota

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American Indian Graduate Center Scholar, Catherine Montoya (Diné) talked about the evolution of her own experience. Montoya is a PhD candidate at the University of New Mexico, where she also works as the Student Success Specialist for the Native American Studies Department. Montoya’s academic journey has inspired her to focus on the wellbeing and advancement of other Natives. “I want to help other students like me who are coming from the reservation who may not have had a lot of support from their families or their communities,” she said. “Sometimes back home they don’t know what we’re going through trying to navigate this system. I felt it was really important for me to share my experience and help others along the way.” Montoya’s unique doctoral program was designed by Native voices with a goal to cultivate Native students into the professionals those communities need. She pointed out what exciting future programs like this could lead to and how they are a reflection of the success of those Natives who have come before us.

Dr. Maria Spirakus - AIGC Alumna Diné

“For Native people family is very important… You have to find your academic family.” - Dr. Maria Spirakus He reflected, while he has a degree in medical lab science, his passion lies with teaching: “I felt the lab environment was a little too mundane. It takes too long to get to the exciting part, but with teaching it can be instantly. I find it more rewarding.” One thing we all agreed on is there is an evolution to our experiences, things are quickly changing, and 30

we are fortunate to be part of the process. Historically, Native cultures were not welcomed into learning spaces. Parisien was happy to report that is not the case in his classroom. “A very unique aspect of Tribal college is we are expected and encouraged to incorporate aspects of our culture into our curriculum,” he said.

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“When I was in my master’s program there was no Native faculty, and I was able to manage. So, I was really excited to find this kind of Nativebased program and amazed it even existed. From my perspective, I can see a big evolution.” American Indian Graduate Center Alumna Dr. Maria Spirakus (Diné) is the founder of Early Educo, an organization advocating for early childhood development and education. She serves as an Educational Consultant, dedicated to student success. Through both her work and personal experiences, she also knows the additional unspoken challenges

“Sometimes back home they don’t know what we’re going through trying to navigate this system. I felt that was really important for me to share my experience and help others along the way.” - Catherine Montoya of becoming a Native academic. For that reason, Spirakus’s consultant work aims to disrupt the lack of Native representation in academia by focusing on early childhood minds and exposure to language. For Spirakus, beginning at a young age for learning, teaching and using our Indigenous languages is key to inspiring and encouraging inquisitive Native minds into adulthood. “Every person I’ve talked to about their doctoral program has had to find their people who will help them navigate and get through everything.

It’s sad because you wonder about the kids that didn’t have that and just struggled through it.” “For Native people family is very important… You have to find your academic family.” Our journeys began with a love for our discipline and a desire to succeed, like any other academic. But for Native academics we must balance many more responsibilities. The fulfilling part of our journeys becomes finding ways to make the path incrementally better for

the next generation. It is true, there is no guide on how to be a Native academic and there are many hidden challenges throughout the journey. But those Native who do occupy this space are incredibly resilient. We all find great comfort in each other; in the fact we are not alone and the support we can provide one another through merely existing. Our Indigeneity sets us apart from our non-Native counterparts, but our values and sense of community and family is what continues to make our scholarship relevant and meaningful.

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Sara Barnett Nsakashalo - AIGCS Alumna Muscogee Creek Nation

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Tools for Navigating Higher Education By: Jeanna Ford American Indian Graduate Center Alumna

There is little argument education is crucial to Native self-determination and preservation. Graduating high school and pursuing higher education is an event celebrated across Tribes, cultures and generations. the american indian graduate | fall 2020 |


Sara Barnett Nsakashalo - AIGC Alumna Muscogee Creek Nation

“I hope to be the same role model, mentor, guide, support person and advocate for our Native students and secure additional resources to provide them with an even better experience than I had.” - Sara Barnett Nsakashalo However, the shift from home life to a university can lead to cultural shock, feelings of being overwhelmed and even feelings of depression, which is why industry experts like Sara Barnett Nsakashalo and Dr. Heather Shotton dedicate their careers to supporting Native students embarking on their higher education journey.

“I hope to be the same role model, mentor, guide, support person and advocate for our Native students and secure additional resources to provide them with an even better experience than I had,” she said.

American Indian Graduate Center Scholars Alumna Sara Barnett Nsakashalo (Muscogee Creek Nation) serves as the Director of the Center for Tribal Studies at Northeastern State University. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and a Master of Education in school counseling and is currently pursuing her doctorate from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. A first-generation college student herself, Barnett Nsakashalo remembers feelings of disparity and being overwhelmed – which is why she aspires to support Native students.


Dr. Heather Shotton and Family

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American Indian Graduate Center Alumna Dr. Heather Shotton (Wichita and Affiliated Tribes) is the Director of Indigenous Education Initiatives for the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education and an Associate Professor in Educa-

tional Leadership & Policy Studies at the University of Oklahoma. She holds a doctorate in Adult and Higher Education also from the University of Oklahoma. Shotton’s interest in higher education began in her senior year of college when she chose to examine Indigenous students’ experiences in the university administered peer mentoring retention program. “When I went to college, that was the first time I had an Indigenous professor or met an Indigenous person with a Ph.D.,” she said. “It was the first time I remember truly feeling seen and it changed everything for me. The visibility of Indigenous scholars helped me to imagine new possibilities, and the love, support and encouragement I received from those professors is what ultimately pushed me to pursue a Ph.D.” Mentorship is a key component both professionals shared as a means for student success. Because of the support she received, Shotton seeks mentorship opportunities with Native students. “I recognize that our Indigenous students already possess so much knowledge and power that they express in different ways,” she said. “I try to always work from that position and focus on honoring and amplifying the power that they carry.” Barnett Nsakashalo, who also offers mentorship opportunities, added: “These conversations may not occur sitting across from them at a desk but rather in the kitchen around a dinner table while practicing beadwork, making moccasins or sitting around the firepit.” Shotton also emphasized the importance of finding resources on your campus, such as Native Student Services offices, Native Cultural Centers and Native Learning Communities. These organizations and programs are dedicated to specifically support Native students. “When there is both a recognition of the need for these services and a strong and sustained commitment to serving Indigenous students, then these resources are absolutely effective in helping Indigenous students succeed,” she said. Barnett Nsakashalo reflected on her own journey, where she found a support system in the Center for Tribal Studies, the Native student organizations on campus and also discovered Native staff who provided guidance, support and mentorship. Through these support systems, she found she was able to reach out of her comfort zone. For her the most effective college programs are those with a holistic approach.

Dr. Heather Shotton - AIGC Alumna Wichita and Affiliated Tribes

“The foundation of our communities is relationships, and this is key in supporting students reach their academic goals,” Barnett Nsakashalo said. “We must provide spaces to which they can bring their whole true self. Helping them navigate through the loss of a family member, a financial crisis, homesickness and other non-academic situations are equally important as checking in on them after a difficult midterm exam.” Through mentorship, on-campus resources and communities, Native students can access tools and strategies to excel in higher education. For additional support, students are invited to contact American Indian Graduate Center by calling 505.881.4584 or visiting our website at

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Making the Grad: 2020 Students of the Month By: Sara LaBarge American Indian Graduate Center Scholars Alumna

American Indian Graduate Center introduced the #MakingTheGrad campaign to highlight the impressive achievements of our American Indian Graduate Center Scholars in academic excellence and community engagement. Each month, the committee selects one graduate and one undergraduate student receiving American Indian Graduate Center or AIGCS funding. Students of the Month awardees are showcased on American Indian Graduate Center’s website and social media platforms, and also receive a certificate and a gift card. the american indian graduate | fall 2020 |



Cyrus Lyday - Undergraduate Portland, Oregon Northern Arapaho Gates Millennium Scholar University of Oregon Journalism GPA 3.15

Cyrus Lyday is an undergraduate student from the Northern Arapaho Tribe. Cyrus studied as a sophomore at the University of Oregon in the 2019-2020 academic year. In September he finished up a six-week, full-time Social Media Internship at Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC). CRITFC works with four partner Tribes - Nez Perce, Umatilla, Yakama and Warm Springs - to preserve and restore salmon and other fish life in the Columbia River. At CRITFC, Cyrus managed the social media sites and also worked on press releases and writing stories to release on their site. As this internship came to an end and school began, he served as one of the Co-Directors of the Native American Student Union at U of O. He, along with three other Co-Directors, planned Native events such as Indigenous Solidarity Day in October and the 50th annual Mother’s Day Powwow.


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UARY Sierra Kaufman - Graduate

Woonsocket, Rhode Island Shinnecock Indian Nation Science Post Graduate Scholarship Fund

Brown University Earth, Environmental and Planetary Science GPA 3.89

Sierra V. Kaufman is a member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation and a current fourth-year PhD. student at Brown University in the Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Science. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Geophysics and Geochemistry from the Fredonia State University of New York and a Master of Science from Brown University in Planetary Science. Before Brown, she got her start in planetary science from an internship at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History foc using on the use of enstatite chondrite meteorites as a proxy for Mercury’s surface. Her current research focuses on the mineralogy and clays on the surface of Mars and how it can be used to determine the past climate and amount of water present. She also works part-time as a spectral analyst for a start-up called Cloud Agronomics which is trying to use hyperspectral data to increase agricultural yields. She is an active member of Brown’s graduate student union and frequently seeks out opportunities to teach whether it be second graders, high schoolers or her fellow graduate students. During the summer she is an instructor for Summer at Brown STEM for Rising 9th and 10th graders, running a course called Solar System Formation and Processes. Sierra is passionate about teaching and, after her PhD., hopes to obtain a faculty position at a university that values both their undergraduate teaching as well as research.

the american indian graduate | fall 2020 |


FEBRU Brittanie Hames - Undergraduate Hillsboro, Ohio Emmonak Village Wells Fargo Undergraduate

Appalachian Bible College Double Major in Bible and Theology & Youth and Family Services GPA 3.98

Brittanie Hames considers herself blessed to have experienced life in several places. She has lived in Anchorage, Bethel, Sterling, and the North Pole, Alaska; as well as Hillsboro, Ohio, and currently she attends school in Beckley, West Virginia. Because of this, Brittanie has been able to view life through different lenses. Having grown up in Alaska, she saw firsthand the hardiness and durability that her people, Yupik Eskimo, have had to survive the weather and cultural differences that have permeated the area.

Living in Ohio and West Virginia, she experienced that many are farmers and coal miners and there is not as much of a Native influence, which makes her proud to be living in these areas and seeking a college education. Yet through all the differences each culture has, she confidently states: fundamentally, people are people. In every culture, people desire to be loved and to know that they matter. It is because of this that she studies and maintains a 3.9 cumulative GPA in a double major in Bible and Theology and Youth and Family Ministries with a concentration in Biblical Counseling. She seeks to let people, specifically children and their families, know that they are loved unwaveringly. Brittanie is a junior and has experienced many opportunities to serve others. While she is not certain where specifically she wishes to serve upon graduation, she has received two job offers already and is keeping her mind open to the Lord’s leading. She is thankful for the opportunities God and American Indian Graduate Center have given her to pursue a life of service. American Indian Graduate Center has empowered her to study and serve without fear of dropping out of school due to a lack of money. I am proud to represent the organization by studying and serving in diligence, honor and commitment to God and others. People change people and this scholarship aids her j ability to effectively do so.


the american indian graduate | fall 2020 |

UARY Brittany Laub - Graduate

Tulsa, Oklahoma Citizen Potawatomi Nation Special Higher Education Program Oklahoma State University Master of Business Administration GPA 4.0

Brittany is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Tribe and is currently in her second semester of the Master of Business Administration program at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma. She holds an undergraduate degree in Entrepreneurship with a minor in Finance and has a background in marketing, sales and startups. She is passionate about product marketing and accepted a summer internship position with Cigna Health in Bloomfield, CT. As an associate in their Marketing Leadership Development Program, she had the opportunity to learn how to make a positive impact on consumers within the healthcare space.

Brittany’s active student involvement includes: President of the MBA Association, VP of Finance for the Graduate Learning Association for Students (GLAS), Entrepreneurial Lead for emerging technology in the veterinary health space being developed at OSU, Marketing Lead for an application being developed by an OSU research lab focused on reducing human trafficking in the United States, member of the Alumni Advisory Board for the MBA program and Team Lead for the OSU MBA Case Competition Team.

the american indian graduate | fall 2020 |



Jaida Smith - Undergraduate Farmington, New Mexico Navajo Nation Wells Fargo Undergraduate University of New Mexico Biochemistry GPA 3.68

Jaida Smith is currently attending the University of New Mexico as a junior student studying a Pre-Medical route to attend Medical School at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. She is obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry with a minor in Health, Medicine and Human Values, Psychology and Designation in the Honors College. She also works as a Resident Advisor for the Navajo Nation Student Community Living Learning Community in on-campus housing.

Jaida plans to further her skills as a leader, scholar and altruist to become the best student she can and graduate in the top of her class. She intends to start medical school in summer of 2021 and hopes to become a pediatrician and seek an occupation as a doctor for Indian Health Services specifically in Shiprock, New Mexico, where she can serve her community. As a first generation, female, Native American college student, Jaida can attest to the struggle and hardships that her people face. She feels her scholarship and the opportunities that come with it will prepare her for her future as a doctor and make her more attuned with her Native culture. She will examine firsthand how her heritage and medicine can work together.


the american indian graduate | fall 2020 |

RCH Hilary Gourneau - Graduate

Poplar, Montana Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation BIE Loan for Service Portland State University School Counseling GPA 3.9

Hilary Gourneau is a member of Dakota (Sioux) & Assiniboine of Fort Peck and Anishinabe (Chippewa) of Turtle Mountain. She grew up on her reservation in Montana, in the small town of Poplar and left to pursue her undergraduate degree in Elementary Education. She then returned to accept a teaching position as a fifth grade teacher and eventually took on the head coach’s position for her school’s high school girls’ volleyball program, which she loves. Throughout her time at Poplar Schools Hilary not only enjoyed what she did as an educator, but she also loved being able to give back, especially to a school and community that provided her with so much more than an education. It instilled an appreciation and love for her Native identity and it allowed her to be surrounded by her cultural teachings. She was able to have a connection with the land and it provided her a place that she felt supported, safe and valued. Hilary is now pursuing her graduate degree in School Counseling at Portland State University, in Portland, Oregon. While attending a university that is predominantly white and living in a major city, she has had a difficult time adjusting to life off the reservation. She is grateful to the professors, mentors and colleagues she has met while being there and believes that building a strong relationship among those that show interest and want to support you has been one of the major keys to keeping her locked into finishing her degree.

the american indian graduate | fall 2020 |


Rochelle McFarlane - Undergraduate Saint Ignace, Michigan Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians Science Post Graduate Scholarship Fund Central Michigan University Business Administration GPA 3.67


Rochelle McFarlane is in her second semester at Central Michigan University majoring in Business Administration and minoring in General Studies. Her previous college experience includes: Bay Mills Community College, from 2014-2016, where she obtained an Associate’s Degree in Business Administration followed by North Central Community College, 2016-2017, where she earned an Associates in General Studies.

In addition to studying as a full-time student, Rochelle also has a full-time job and a family. Her hobbies entail keeping busy with courses, work and her three sons. Rochelle said she really does not have much time for anything other than these areas of focus at this point in her life. She is hopeful to teach online in the future. She loves learning and enjoys passing on what she has learned to others. Education is very important to Rochelle and her future success. She has learned these past couple years that the most important part of online classes is the instructor. Their abilities to teach the material in an interesting way and respond quickly to any questions or concerns is detrimental to the success of their students. She has had a couple of top-notch professors who she admires and wants to live up to their standards of teaching in the future.


the american indian graduate | fall 2020 |

RIL Sarah Ferrell - Graduate

Tahlequah, Oklahoma Cherokee Nation Gates Millennium Scholar, Science Post Graduate Scholarship Fund The George Washington University-Milken Institute of Public Health Public Health-Health Policy GPA 3.6

Sarah is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation from Tahlequah, Oklahoma. She completed her undergraduate degree at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, earning a Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Administration and a Bachelor of Business Administration focusing in International Business. She is currently working on a Master of Public Health in Health Policy at The George Washington University – Milken Institute of Public Health. In addition to that, she is also an intern in a Congressional Office on Capitol Hill. She loves to travel and experience different cultures and parts of the world.

the american indian graduate | fall 2020 |


Shasta Dazen - Undergraduate Whiteriver, Arizona White Mountain Apache Tribe Science Post Graduate Scholarship Fund Fort Lewis College Public Health GPA 3.66


The core of Shasta Dazen’s existence is White Mountain Apache Tribe and she hails from the Fort Apache Indian Reservation of Whiteriver, Arizona. She is the sixth born of twelve children, and is blessed with a big family who value Apache traditions. Growing up in a low -income home, she thought education was impossible and far from reach. As she overcame many adversities, Shasta is glad that she is a first- generation student currently in her senior year majoring in Public Health with a minor in Native American and Indigenous Studies at Fort Lewis College.

While being a full-time student, Shasta is also a mother to two boys, a three-year-old and an eight-month-old. She had her second son at the start of my fall 2019 semester, and has been taking him with her to all her classes. Through the empowerment of motherhood, she managed to maintain a GPA above a 3.5. Her kids are her inspiration to her education. She believes pursuing a major in Public Health will engage her and be a helpful practice forum to prepare for similar life challenges within her Tribal community. Through her educational journey, the valuable knowledge of public health inspires Shasta to learn more of Tribal health issues and how vital it is to ensure the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples. She has support coming from her ancestors through traditional prayers of encouragement in this mortal journey.


the american indian graduate | fall 2020 |

AY Gabriel Garcia - Graduate Maricopa, Arizona Tohono O’Odham Nation Special Higher Education Program

Arizona State University Global Technology and Development GPA 3.76

Growing up in a small town called Stanfield, Gabriel’s family was located about 22 miles north of the entrance of the Tohono O’odham Nation, 95 miles from his district. Gabriel grew up on his maternal side of the family, where it consisted of his grandmother and her 11 children. The first 10 grew up with the language and knew how to speak it, but soon forgot it come the 21st century. The last child, his mother, did not grow up with such interactions and only understood the conversations, but did not know how to speak it. His grandmother no longer wanted to speak it out of fear from her traumatic experience in her early ages. Her children saw no purpose to continue speaking what they knew since the people around them spoke English. As a result, Gabriel grew up in an English-only environment. While he was involved in Native American clubs in high school and Indigenous organizations in college, he never felt like a member of his Tribe. He simply felt like a volunteer. However, in the past two years, his involvement with Indigenous communities has increased. It has led to him learning his introduction in O’odham, understanding their traditions and gaining knowledge of his culture. Today, he continues striving to improve his knowledge and find ways to continue giving back to his community. Gabriel graduated in 2019 from Arizona State University (ASU) with his bachelor’s in supply chain management and minor in design. Currently, he is attending graduate school at ASU, studying global technology and development, where his end goal is to work for his Tribe and their gaming enterprises.

the american indian graduate | fall 2020 |


Marcus Richardson - Undergraduate Bailey, North Carolina Haliwa Saponi Tribe Wells Fargo Undergraduate


University of North Carolina Media and Journalism and American Indian & Indigenous Studies GPA 3.7

Marcus Richardson is a student-athlete playing junior varsity basketball at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill while studying Advertising and Public Relations at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media. He also majors in American Indian and Indigenous Studies. After completing an Advertising and Graphic Design Certificate in his senior year of high school, Richardson decided to pursue a career in design and marketing. He then spent the summer of 2019 interning with the Coastal Plain League. Now as a rising junior, Richardson works as a graphic designer for UNC Women’s Basketball and UNC’s yearbook, Yackety Yack. Additionally, he will serve the Carolina Indian Circle as the Social Media Coordinator starting Fall 2020. Outside of college and his career, Richardson enjoys playing basketball, weightlifting and practicing photography.


the american indian graduate | fall 2020 |

NE Mosiah Bluecloud - Graduate

Norman, Oklahoma Kickapoo Tribe Special Higher Education Program, Lynne Ruth Lafin Elmore Sucher Scholarship University of Oklahoma Linguistics GPA 4.0

Mosiah Bluecloud, an enrolled member of the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma, began working in Indigenous Language Revitalization in 2008. He started as an intern at the Sauk Language Department in Stroud, Oklahoma. He later transitioned from an Audio and Video Technician to a member of the Sauk Language Department’s Modified Master Apprentice Program in 2010. After 1,280 hours of learning Sauk as an Apprentice and 668 hours of professional development training in Native Language Teaching Methodologies, Bluecloud became the Lead instructor of the Sauk Language. He taught community classes across three counties, a Sauk Language course at Bacone College and two levels of Sauk at Shawnee High School. Bluecloud left the Sauk Language Department to pursue his Bachelor of Arts in Linguistics, which he received in Spring 2016 from the University of Oklahoma and established the Kickapoo Language program later that fall. Mosiah continued his higher education journey at the University of Arizona where he completed his master’s degree in Native American Languages and Linguistics. He is set to start his PhD linguists’ program this fall. While working on his master’s degree, Mosiah also established the Kickapoo Teacher Training Program for the Kickapoo Tribe of Kansas.

the american indian graduate | fall 2020 |


Fall 2019

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50th Anniversary Legacy Law School Hopef ul Seeks to Give Voices to Those That Go Unheard Shayna Begay: Rocket Scientist American Indian Gradu ate Center Schola r Uses Culture and Heritage to Transform Native Healthcare American Indian Gradu ate Center Impacts Tribal Sovere ignty Long Way Around: Native Librarian Advises, ‘It’s OK to Switch Gears’

the american indian graduate | fall 2020 |



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