American Indian Graduate Center Magazine Spring Issue 2021

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Answering the Call:



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The American Indian Graduate Volume 20, Number 1, Spring 2021

Message from the Board President .................................................. 4

The American Indian Graduate Volume 20, Number 1

Message from the Executive Director .............................................. 5

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:

Translating Science................................................................................ 7 by Alastair Lee Bitsói A Conversation on Self-Determination ........................................... 12 by Sara LaBarge From Self-Determination to Indigenization ................................... 18 by Dr. Salena Beaumont Hill and Dr. Corey Still Dr. Beryl Blue Spruce: Creating an Impact for Generations ....... 22 by Gabriel Bell

Publisher Angelique Albert Executive Director Editor in Chief Sara LaBarge Managing Editor Lindsay Mahaney Erazo Graphic Designer Warren Pemberton

Making the Grad: 2020 Students of the Month ............................ 26 by Sara LaBarge

Board of Directors Holly Cook Macarro President Red Lake Band of Ojibwe

Navigating College Readiness.......................................................... 31 by Abigail Celissia Johnson

Walter Lamar Vice President Blackfeet & Wichita

All Native American High School Academic Team ....................... 34

Aurene M. Martin Secretary & Treasurer Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Stacy Leeds Cherokee Nation Ernie Stevens, Jr. Oneida Nation of Wisconsin

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Hud Oberly Comanche, Osage & Caddo Richard Williams Oglala Lakota & Northern Cheyenne

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Board Emeritus Dana Arviso Navajo Nation Steve Stallings Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians Cover Image: Dr. Lloyd Lee Navajo Nation

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message from the board president Welcome and thank you for joining us for American Indian Graduate Center’s Spring 2021 edition of The American Indian Graduate Magazine. American Indian Graduate Center was built 50 years ago with the fundamental purpose of creating opportunities for Native scholars to have equal access to attain higher education. Since inception, we are proud to have empowered more than 16,000 Native students representing over 500 Tribes in all 50 states. Their achievements are undeniable, and impacting our work toward visibility and self-determination. Krystal Tsosie (Navajo Nation) is conducting groundbreaking research on genetic determinants of pre-eclampsia, specifically in pregnant women. Christopher Villarruel (Ajumwawi Band of The Pit River Nation) is working toward a degree in forestry with the goal of building his own natural resource management LLC Holly Cook Macarro, Board President to offer sustainable forest and hydrology management services. Red Lake Band of Ojibwe Representative Deb Haaland (Pueblo of Laguna) was nominated as the first Native Secretary of the Interior. These individuals are among many that our organization has empowered on their academic journeys. When American Indian Graduate Center creates opportunities for our students to achieve higher education, not only are we empowering our scholars to pursue their academic goals, but we are impacting Indian Country as a whole. According to the American Indian Graduate Center Economic Impact Study, American Indian Graduate Center scholarship recipients employed in the workforce amounted to $349.4 million in added income to the U.S. economy that year, which is equivalent to supporting 5,844 jobs. The present value higher future earnings scholarship recipients will receive over their working careers is $157 million, which they are then able to reinvest in their communities. The average annual rate of return for our scholars is 16.3% — a greater return than a 30-year average 10.1% return to the United States stock market. Reflecting on our 50-year legacy, it is obvious to me that the power and strength of our scholars and alumni cannot be emphasized enough. Whether in their Tribes, universities, corporate offices, the international space station or even the Department of the Interior, our alumni have created an incredible impact in their communities. American Indian Graduate Center is dedicated to fulfilling our mission and vision to empower all Native students across the United States as they pursue undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees — and we invite you to support our work today, tomorrow and for the next 50 years. Miigwech (Thank You),

Holly Cook Macarro President, Board of Directors 4

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message from the executive director Xẹst Sx̣lx̣alt (Good Day)! A warm welcome to the Spring 2021 edition of The American Indian Graduate Magazine, Answering the Call: Our Legacy of Empowering Native Scholars & Supporting Tribal Communities. Over the past 50 years, American Indian Graduate Center has answered the call of our communities to empower students to pursue higher education and address the disparities that our people have faced, both historically and still today. The relationship between our communities and educational systems in the United States has been traumatic and oppressive. The Boarding School Era, which began as a result of the Civilization Fund Act in 1819, attempted to assimilate our communities. The effects of these policies can still be felt, with inequitable access to education, healthcare and more. However, the resilience of our culture and our people is strong. We have rich traditions, knowledge and customs that continue to thrive from generation to generation.

Angelique Albert, Executive Director Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes

Our communities have called for equitable higher education opportunities to strengthen selfdetermination, and American Indian Graduate Center is committed to answering that call. In 1969 there were only 38 Native lawyers, 15 Native doctoral students and 30 Native medical doctors. As of 2019, our organization has contributed to over 2,000 law degrees, 1,700 postgraduate degrees and 450 medical degrees for Native students. We’ve empowered our scholars to pursue careers in social work, government affairs and, most recently, a large influx of STEM fields. We recognize that education remains one of the most powerful tools to effect individual and collective change. But for us, providing scholarships is but one indicator of our success as an organization. On a much larger scale, we’re breaking cycles of oppression with the power of education. We are proud to have impacted 1,450 scholars with scholarships and academic support this past year — including Abigail Celissia Johnson (Navajo Nation), who shares her personal journey in this magazine, as well as the 11 other Students of the Month who are also featured. By empowering our scholars with the tools they need to succeed in higher education, we provide them with opportunities to improve their lives and give back to their Tribal communities for generations to come. I’m honored to lead an organization that is built to create the next generation of Native leaders, professionals and scholars. Join us as we continue to answer the call of our communities, providing access to higher education for the scholars of today and those to come for the next 50 years. Lemlmtš (Thank You),


Angelique Albert Executive Director

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Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer Photo Credit: Dale Kakkak












“The moral covenant of reciprocity calls us to honor our responsibilities for all we have been given, for all that we have taken.” - Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer 7

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Whether collecting data in the forest or in the laboratory sequencing genomes, reciprocity, humility and consent are values and methods that are critical to translating Indigenous knowledge systems into western science, according to Indigenous scientists. Alternatively known as Decolonizing Science, it means to acknowledge how colonial thinking is not supreme, but rather secondary to Indigenous cultures, languages and societies. And that also means to immediately stop extracting information without reciprocal consent. Just ask American Indian Graduate Center Scholars Christopher Villarruel

(Ajumwawi Band of The Pit River Nation) and Krystal Tsosie (Diné), who know from their experiences studying natural resources and genetics at their respective universities, and Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer (Citizen Potawatomi Nation), scientist, professor and author of Braiding Sweetgrass, which is a memoir of collective knowledge that verifies the claims of both Villarruel and Tsosie through Indigenous

wisdom, scientific knowledge and the teachings of plants. Villarrueal is a senior studying forestry with a concentration in hydrology, at Humboldt State University. So far in his academic career, he is already experiencing the dichotomies of Traditional Ecological Knowledge and western science. Forestry has taught him how categories of specialization by discipline has a limitation, as compared to Indigenous views on science. Villarrueal sees these differences when he looks at Grandfather Fire from a cultural view. In the forestry academy’s view, Grandfather Fire is taught as being wild and destructive. To an Indigenous person, like himself, fire – one the most valued and sacred elements – has many different forms. In fact, he said, fire is a life force and tool from Creator/ Intellectual Designer to help humans rebalance nature. He appreciates the knowledge of Yurok Tribal members for teaching him these values during a recent firefighting certification course to help with his studies. This coming spring, he will graduate with his bachelor’s degree in forestry.

Krystal Tsosie, the american AIGC Scholar indian - Diné graduate | spring 2021 | 8 Photo Credit:Tennessee Photography

“The way that our forests are ran by the U.S. government and U.S. Forest Service is an extension of colonization,” Villarruel said. “They defend the forest from their point of view. It will never be correct without including us into the equation as stewards and our connections to the land.” There is only so much the classroom and laboratories can teach, he added, before explaining that in 2021 the world needs to consider Indigenous approaches to natural science, because solutions to the planet’s issues like climate change are embedded in Tribal history, culture, language and knowledge. At Vanderbilt, Tsosie’s breadth of study has allowed her to take matters into her own hands and empower Indigenous communities by letting them know it is okay to decline health research studies in their communities. Tsosie speaks from her years of study, where she achieved her undergraduate degree in microbiology and a master’s degree in bioethics from Arizona State University, and a master’s in public health epidemiology at Vanderbilt University. She is now in her

Christopher Villarruel, AIGC Scholar Ajumwawi Band of The Pit River Nation Photo Credit: Hoopa Forestry Internship

fourth year of her Doctor of Philosophy program in genomics and health disparities, also at Vanderbilt. As a Diné person, she also sees how Indigenous peoples have always been scientists, and that it is important to reclaim science by reorganizing worldviews where Indigenous knowledge is first. “We were always geneticists before ‘western science’

infiltrated our communities,” Tsosie said. “We had our own ways of knowing and understanding natural phenomenon that is wisdom and knowledge passed on from generation to generation. That wisdom is now known as the scientific method.” In the field of genetics, she said, it is also important for Tribal governments to decline any research proposals that may compromise its

“We were always geneticists before ‘western science’ infiltrated our communities.” - Krystal Tsosie 9

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“It’s our turn now, long overdue. Let us hold a giveaway for Mother Earth, spread our blankets out for her and pile them high with gifts of our own making.” - Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer peoples. The word “if” she said, is critical to her studies as a new genomics scientist. For the future of protecting Indigenous culture and wisdom, both Villarruel and Tsosie know that calling out colonialism in their academic disciplines is necessary. In other words, the western science world is only recently starting to catch up. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Wall Kimmerer writes about the value of reciprocity and reaffirms the thinking of

Villarreul. Reciprocity not just in the western science disciplines, but throughout humanity. There is urgent need to shift values from capitalism and exploitation to save Mother Earth and Father Sky, she writes. Wall Kimmerer added that gifts of reciprocity are not happening enough, and that according to Anishnaabe culture, it is up to humans, more than ever, to find and reclaim their behaviors to align with the Seven Fires Prophecy – a truth that tells

the phases of life for the people of Turtle Island. “The moral covenant of reciprocity calls us to honor our responsibilities for all we have been given, for all that we have taken,” she said. “It’s our turn now, long overdue. Let us hold a giveaway for Mother Earth, spread our blankets out for her and pile them high with gifts of our own making. Whatever our gift, we are called to give it and to dance for the renewal of the world.”

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Walter Lamar, Blackfeet & Wichita American Indian Graduate Center Board Vice President





“American Indian Graduate Center is committed to empowering Native scholars across the United States in their pursuit of higher education.” - Walter Lamar 12

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When it comes to pursuing self-determination, American Indian Graduate Center provides access to one of the most important tools Native scholars can leverage: education. The organization started as a grassroots effort to address disparities that Native communities were facing — disproportionate access to healthcare, education, home ownership and employment, to name a few — by empowering Native students to pursue law degrees to protect Tribal nations and people. Over time, it transformed from a movement toward selfgovernance to The Center for Native Scholarships.

afforded equal opportunities to achieve their goals. Yet, historically and still today, there are many barriers that prevent Native students from accessing education.

Walter Lamar (Blackfeet & Wichita), Vice President of American Indian Graduate Center’s Board of Directors, spoke to the significance of the organization’s work, sharing that education is a tool for Native communities to create self-determination

“When you look at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, it really was a ‘late in the game’ tool to continue this methodology of domination. When you think back on the early days of the BIA, it was all non-Natives that were working there and had complete control over social services, welfare dollars and all of these significant family dynamics,” he said.

“As we look at what we do at American Indian Graduate Center, we’re providing the means for Native scholars to dedicate the time and attain their educational goals. We are creating accessibility and that accessibility promotes inclusion, which puts us on a path to equity,” he said. American Indian Graduate Center was founded on the principle that to be fully included in society, Native individuals must be 13

Lamar reflected on a not so distant time in his own memory when the Bureau of Indian Affairs was managed by non-Native individuals who were making decisions that impacted Native communities, from social services to land management.

“This is etched in our recent memory — it’s not something from some bygone era.” Lamar’s recollections indicate one of the very reasons that American Indian Graduate Center’s work is so critical — the organization empowers Native scholars to pursue their academic aspirations, producing leaders

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and professionals across a variety of sectors that in turn create self-determination. A perfect example: American Indian Graduate Center Alumna Deb Haaland (Pueblo of Laguna). Haaland made history as the first Native individual to be nominated for the position of Secretary of the Interior. The Department of the Interior oversees about 500 million acres of public land and federal policies affecting the 574 federally recognized Tribal governments, including three offices for Tribal affairs: the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Indian Education and the Bureau for Trust Funds Administration. The Department of the Interior is tasked with a host of responsibilities, including honoring the United States’ commitments to American Indians and Alaska Native communities. Yet the very department charged with upholding these commitments has never been led by a Native person. With Haaland at the helm, there is the opportunity for the Department of the Interior address

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“The more Native scholars we have educated in a whole variety of disciplines gives us the opportunity to move into and transform these spaces where we aren’t represented and create a more inclusive society.” - Walter Lamar significant issues that have negatively impacted Tribal communities for generations: restoring and preserving sacred sites such as Bears Ears National Monument, Chaco Canyon and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and revisiting other land claims, as well as pushing for a more equitable COVID-19 response for Native communities. “The more Native scholars we have educated in a whole variety of disciplines gives us the opportunity to move into and transform these spaces where we aren’t represented and create a more inclusive society,” Lamar said. “Essentially what we are

striving for is Indigenous self-determination.” In the organization’s work toward self-determination, Lamar notes that American Indian Graduate Center also needs support from allies, like individual donors and strategic partners. “To promote self-determination, we need to have allies,” Lamar said. “We turn to them to help recreate our history and experience — or at least recognize it — because there has been a tremendous effort to erase our cultures, history and experiences.” One such ally has been MacKenzie Scott, who gave

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an unrestricted $20 million donation in July 2020. With Scott’s generous gift, the largest unrestricted donation in Indian Country’s history, American Indian Graduate Center has the opportunity to extend its reach and empower more scholars in pursuit of higher education. Support from Scott and all of the organization’s generous donors further American Indian Graduate Center’s mission of empowering Native scholars. As Lamar looks to the future of American Indian Graduate Center, he hopes to focus the next 50 years on building a foundation of inclusion: “It’s part of our responsibility as we move forward to invite our Native scholars into this conversation about equity and access to higher education.” “American Indian Graduate Center is committed to empowering Native scholars across the United States in their pursuit of higher education. Equipped with education and understanding, they will lead the way to self-determination.”

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Dr. Lloyd Lee, AIGC Alumnus- Navajo Nation




“Every society needs educated people, but the primary responsibility of educated people is to bring wisdom back into the community and make it available to others so that the lives they are leading make sense.” - Vine Deloria Jr. 18

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Education plays a vital role in the continuation and persistence of any people. However more than most, Native people carry a tumultuous past when it comes to engaging with western education systems in the United States. American Indian and Alaska Native self-determination has evolved over the last 50 years. Native communities have established schools and universities that are designed and modeled in traditional and cultural ways of knowing and teaching styles. These education systems empower their students to learn western education standards through the lens of traditional knowledge. “People need to know and understand the history of Indigenous peoples in this country and around the world,” said Dr. Lloyd Lee (Navajo Nation), American Indian Graduate Center Alumnus. An Associate Professor of Native Studies at the University of New Mexico, Lee’s research focuses on American Indian Identity and Native Community Building, among other topics. His role at the University of New Mexico also extends to the university’s Diversity Council, where he dedicates his time to reviewing historical documents addressing diversity at the university and studying campus climate policies and best practices addressing diversity and 19

excellence at institutions of higher education. Lee emphasized the necessity of understanding Native history and how it impacts our world today: “Native American Studies teaches students and the university about the history, challenges and solutions to what Native peoples have faced and continue to do so in the 21st century.” “They are building partnerships, alliances and creating the initiatives to ensure Native sovereignty and Indigeneity is sustained.” Vine Deloria Jr. (Standing Rock Sioux Tribe), who was known to many as the leading Native intellectual of the 20th century, also spoke to the responsibility of the educated to return to their communities to utilize and implement what they learned for the betterment of their families. One of the largest setbacks to this, however, is that for nearly 300 years Native people did not have the ability to determine their own education systems or teaching models. In 1972, the United States Congress passed the

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Indian Education Act which sought to meet the unique educational and cultural academic needs of American Indian and Alaska Native students, which were not met by the Bureau of Indian Affairs at the time. To this day, this is the only comprehensive piece of legislation that focuses on American Indian and Alaska Native education from elementary to graduate school. Furthermore, in 1975 Public Law 93-638, more commonly known as the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, was passed to strengthen and reinforce the Federal Trust responsibility to Tribal nations. The act gave power to Tribes to determine their own course of action in creating their own educational systems, amongst other things. We know that Indigenous and western models of learning often do not mix. However, thanks to self-determination many Tribal communities now have the ability to define educational standards in their own terms. Unfortunately, these concepts have not been widely accepted in mainstream colleges and uni-

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versities. Building off these laws, many Tribal nations have flourished by providing spaces for their students to engage with education from a Native perspective. Unfortunately, mainstream institutions of higher learning have been slow to learn those same lessons. Taking the next step in self-determination requires us to think about ways to Indigenize colleges and universities.

said Dr. Tiffany Smith (Cherokee Nation).

“It’s about recognizing and understanding the continued harm inflicted on Indigenous communities through systems of education and providing spaces for institutions to truly show commitment to improving Tribal relations and creating spaces that’s geared to support Indigenous students by Indigenous peoples,”

Lee and Smith bring up excellent points in urging institutions to consider the importance of Indigenized spaces. However, the question then shifts to how institutions begin the process of Indigenizing institutional policies, protocols and curriculums. Higher education institutions should consider how to effectively include Native ways of knowing as legitimate components of higher education.

Dr. Tiffany Smith - Cherokee Nation

As Director of Student Engagement at Oklahoma City University, Smith works directly with Native scholars on a daily basis. Her career has been dedicated to empowering students through career development, student engagement and diversity and inclusion efforts at the University of Oklahoma.

“Indigenizing higher education is a comprehensive and transformative approach to ensuring universities and colleges commit to, accept and promote an Indigenous worldview to education and life,” Lee added. The work to Indigenize higher education begins with non-Native university administrators and community members appreciating Indigenous knowledge and recognizing them as val20

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id. They must be inclusive and allow Indigenous voices on campuses to speak and be heard. It is essential that space be created that encourages learning from Indigenous faculty, staff and students. For this to be successful, there must be a willingness to listen to the needs of Indigenous communities and make intentional efforts to work with them and understand their needs. Following the guidance of Deloria, Jr. and utilizing the laws outlining Indian Education, advocating to Indigenize higher education is the next logical step in Tribal self-determination to advance and increase Native representation and knowledge in higher education. Indigenizing spaces in colleges and universities is not going to happen overnight. It’s not going to happen without the joint effort of both Native and non-Native communities. Native community members, scholars, students and leaders should consider calling upon their non-Native counterparts to ensure that spaces that reflect them are visible in universities. This is the time to act, to remind higher education how resilient Native people are and to be unapologetically Indigenous.

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Dr. Beryl Blue Spruce Pueblo of Laguna & Ohkay Owingeh Photo Credit: Shawn Spruce

D R .



S P R U C E :




“My dad broke a lot of boundaries at time when there weren’t a lot of Native people doing what he was doing and making those kinds of strides professionally.” - Shawn Spruce 22

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When describing Dr. Beryl Blue Spruce (Pueblo of Laguna & Ohkay Owingeh), one would use words such as trail blazer and dedicated physician — but his impact is stretched beyond his professional achievements. An obstetrician gynecologist, Blue Spruce was the first Native Pueblo physician and an advocate for Native health, particularly for Native women with limited resources. He broke many barriers and made strides as a Native doctor, leaving a lasting legacy encouraging Native Scholars to follow in his footsteps and pursue careers in the medical field. “Medicine is a field that requires every cell, every ability, every skill the human can possess,” Blue Spruce said in an address to aspiring Native scholars interested in pursuing health careers. “If you are an artist, you can use that skill to be a physician. If you have a feeling for people, if you have a sense of being able to handle people and be comfortable with people, that’s a helpful asset in medicine. If you have an exceptional memory that’s helpful in medicine. What I am saying is that even though you might not have a straight ‘A’ average, you may have the attributes in other areas that will make you a great physician or a great nurse, or a great dentist or whatever it is you choose to be.” 23

With his career in medicine, Blue Spruce found fulfillment in doing what he loved to do: helping people. In fact, his desire to help others continues to live on today through the Dr. Beryl Blue Spruce Memorial Scholarship Fund, American Indian Graduate Center’s first scholarship endowment that was established in 1974 by the Blue Spruce family in his honor.

“Medicine is a field that requires every cell, every ability, every skill the human can possess.” -Dr. Beryl Blue Spruce Over the years recipients of the scholarship have known the doctor’s name and through his son, Shawn Spruce, we learn more about his legacy and impact on Indian Country. “He was really committed to people, regardless of the race,” Spruce said.

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“My dad broke a lot of boundaries at time when there weren’t a lot of Native people doing what he was doing and making those kinds of strides professionally.” It was the mid-1950s and a young Blue Spruce walked the halls of Stanford University as the only known Native student enrolled there. It was a different environment far from his home. Even then, the new college environment was challenging as he struggled through his coursework along with not having sufficient financial support. Overwhelmed with his circumstances, he left Stanford for some time to be home for a while. After regaining his bearings, Blue Spruce soon returned to earn his degree from Stanford and later earn his medical degree from the University of Southern California (USC) in 1964. This was the beginning of his exceptional career as the first Native Pueblo physician. It was also during this time that Blue Spruce met his wife, and they started a family. Spruce reminisced that

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his father was a real comedian who enjoyed laughing and telling jokes. His father had an affinity for classical music and reading, along with a talent for building things with his hands. Spruce shared many happy recollections of his father making Halloween costumes and decorating during the holiday season with his family. One particularly fond memory Spruce shared was when his father returned from a trip to Alaska and showed his children how to build an igloo in the snow. Soon after he completed medical school at USC, Blue Spruce and his family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for his residency in obstetrics and gynecology at Pennsylvania Hospital in 1967. They then moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he practiced his specialty while earning a Master of Public Health at the University of Michigan.

By this time Blue Spruce held faculty appointments at University of Michigan medical school, University of Pennsylvania and Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. For a time, he was Special Assistant to the Director of the Indian Health Service (IHS) of the U.S. Public Health Service. In this capacity he was instrumental in creating a partnership with The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and IHS to form the Native Women’s Health committee that focused on health of American Indian and Alaska Native women in 1970. Blue Spruce recognized the disparity in healthcare for Native women, which is principally why he became an obstetrician-gynecologist. Because of his leadership, ACOG and IHS have been able to conduct trainings and educational activities for IHS health care clinicians, offer site visits and expert

consultations to over 150 maternal health hospital and improve women’s health for Native communities. Blue Spruce was also an early advocate for Indigenous health professionals and the cultural and personal determinants of health behavior for Native people. His work extended beyond Indian Country as he provided healthcare to disadvantaged communities. Many of these efforts were focused in the Detroit area, where he developed a maternity healthcare project for inner city families and a health center was later named after him. Throughout his career, Blue Spruce made an unquestionable impact in the field of medicine. Yet it is his passion and dedication for helping others that will continue to pave the way for future Native scholars for years to come.

“There are people who need good physicians, good nurses, good dentists, good podiatrists and we as Indians have an obligation to make our contribution to fulfilling those needs. And by making our contributions, we have the ability to add some little thing to being a doctor or being a nurse that is peculiar and special to our being an Indian.” - Dr. Beryl Blue Spruce 24

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In 2017, American Indian Graduate Center created a program to honor and recognize exceptional Native scholars: Student of the Month Making the Grad. 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 Student of the Month committee selects one graduate and one undergraduate student receiving American Indian Graduate Center or AIGCS funding. Since starting the program four years ago, more than 40 students have been recognized for their achievements. With a wide breadth of backgrounds and experience, each of our Students

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of the Month are a testament to the diversity of Native scholars who have been empowered by American Indian Graduate Center. We are proud to have supported students from over 500 Tribes in all 50 states as they pursue undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees. Students of the Month awardees are showcased on American Indian Graduate Center’s website and social media platforms, and also receive a certificate and honorarium. They also have the opportunity to be considered for American Indian Graduate Center’s Student of the Year award, which celebrates exceptional scholars who have demonstrated their commitment not only to their own education, but also their leadership and service to their Tribal communities.

Eva Dawn Burk Graduate - July Eva Dawn Burk grew up practicing her Denaakk’e (Koyukon) and Dene’ (Lower Tanana) Athabascan traditions of harvesting salmon, moose, waterfowl and berries and trapping with her family on their ancestral lands and waters. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from UAF in 2007 and worked for Arctic Slope Regional Corporation’s subsidiary ASRC Energy Services as a Senior Project Engineer for a variety of projects involving pipelines, roads, broadband infrastructure, environmental studies, logistics, stakeholder engagement and renewable energy. Currently, she is working on a Master of Science in Natural Resources Management with a focus on Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development. Joseph White Mountain Undergraduate - July Joseph White Mountain is currently in his fourth semester of college. His first two semesters were spent studying Applied Science in Electrical Technology, however he then switched to IT for his most recent semesters. He also volunteers his time with the Sun Watogla Horse Program, and Sitting Bull College’s Fitness Club and Geek Squad, as well as coaching McLaughlin Middle School Football. Joseph enjoys all the knowledge he is receiving 27

through his coursework and will continue with hard work, dedication and patience until he graduates and earns his degree. Monique Apple Graduate - August Monique Apple is a happily married mother of three beautiful children, grandmother of three grandsons and one granddaughter. She received her Master of Social Work in 2004 from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Monique has dedicated herself to giving back to her Tribal community and served in a number of leadership roles including Director of the Oglala Lakota College Social Work Department and Executive Director of a direct mental health and advocacy services for a Lakota children’s mental health program. She is slated to defend her dissertation in her Doctorate of Social Work program in the spring of 2021. Jacob Flowers Undergraduate - August Jacob Flowers is a student athlete at Wingate University. As a sophomore in college, he is pursuing a degree in biology. He has a 3.0 GPA and also plays on the school’s football team at the Division II level. Jacob also volunteers his time with the student government association and participated in One Day One Dog, a full day of service at Wingate University.

the american indian graduate | spring 2021 |

Eva Dawn Burk

Joseph White Mountain

Monique Apple

Jacob Flowers

the american indian graduate | spring 2021 |


Brooke Hoover

William Wilson III

Gavin Nadeau

Paul Areyan 28

Brooke Hoover Graduate - September Brooke has a passion for both science and art. She is approximately two years away from completion of her Ph.D. in Integrative Biology. In this endeavor, she has found that science when viewed through an art lens can lead to extraordinary discoveries, and hopefully she will be able to contribute her research discoveries to the world by the completion of her degree. Brooke has dedicated much of her time in service to her communities, including as an aide to the Center for Sovereign Nations at Oklahoma State University and a planner for the Science Club at Highland Park Elementary William Wilson III Undergraduate-September William Wilson III is pursuing his bachelor’s degree in Native Studies Leadership at Northwest Indian College in Bellingham, Washington. William is a recipient of the Wells Fargo Undergraduate Scholarship and has been described as humble, kind, loving and mindful. In addition to his studies, William volunteers his time at the Sweat Lodge on campus. Gavin Nadeau Graduate - October After starting his higher education journey at Turtle Mountain Community College, Gavin earned two

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Bachelor of Arts degrees – Indian Studies and History – from the University of North Dakota. He then enrolled in a Masters of Science program for higher education, following his passion for helping students navigate their own college journey. After graduating with his Masters degree in 2019, Gavin was accepted into his current doctoral program, which will prepare him to serve his Turtle Mountain community when he graduates. Beyond his coursework, Gavin serves as a Student Advisor for UND’s TRIO Student Support Services program. Paul Areyan Undergraduate-October Paul Areyan served as a medic in the Army for three and a half years. When he returned, Paul decided to pursue a degree in nursing. He transferred to California State University Fresno with a 4.0 and maintained it. He has a chemistry minor that he will finish this semester. He plans to graduate in December 2021 with his Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Paul has volunteered with United American Indian Involvement (UAII) and Fresno American Indian Health Project (FAIHP), where he was a camp counselor and first aid person for UAII’s Robert Sundance Summer Camp.


Abigail Johnson Graduate - November After completing a Bachelor of Science in Geography from Arizona State University, Abigail is currently pursuing a Master of Education from Kansas State University. After serving as a Children’s Ministry Teacher at a local church, Abigail’s passion grew for teaching elementary aged students; it is one of the reasons why she decided to pursue a master’s degree. Abigail’s professional goals include providing students culturally responsive teaching in STEM and improving literacy rates amongst Native children. She is currently a 5th grade student teacher at Norman Public Schools on Kikkaapoi (Kickapoo) lands. She is set to graduate this spring.

Alexis Estes Graduate - December Alexis Estes’s art therapy journey began when an art therapist guided her through a practice of meditation and art creation that encouraged her growth through self reflection. The practice reminded her of the soothing rhythms and “flow” of Indigenous dance and ceremony, which is why she is passionate about making art therapy more available to Native communities. Now, she is pursuing a master’s dual degree – in Counseling and Art Therapy. Alexis seeks to share these practices to help other Native women and adolescents heal through the arts. Her Lakota culture has influenced her art to contain colorful abstractions of beadwork symbols.

David Donovan Undergraduate-November David is a first-generation college student. In 2015, he obtained his Veterinary Technician degree, which helped solidify his desire to be a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. Currently David is a full-time student finishing his Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Colorado Denver. He will be the first of his siblings to obtain a bachelor’s degree and will soon obtain a professional degree. David said his hope is to be a practicing rural large and small animal medicine at his home on the Navajo reservation.

Douglas Krukoff Undergraduate-December Douglas Krukoff is pursuing a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University, intending to declare a major in psychology and acquire knowledge that has to do with the human experience through the environment and mind. Douglas said the ability to succeed at this institution is a triumph that there is pride in because of the rigor that such private research institutions entail. As a first generation college student, Douglas is proud to represent Native populations.

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Abigail Johnson

David Donovan

Alexis Estes

Douglas Krukoff the american indian graduate | spring 2021 |



the american indian graduate | spring 2021 |

Abigail Johnson, AIGC Scholar Navajo Nation




“Someday, I hope to pass on encouragement and developmental advice to another scholar, so they may follow their passion and pursue higher education.” - Abigail Celissia Johnson 31

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the american indian graduate | spring 2021 |


My name is Abigail Celissia Johnson and I grew up in El Mirage, Arizona, which is a city outside of Phoenix, Arizona. I am an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation. My clans include Deeshchii’nii (Start of the Red Streak People), Bit’ahnii (Within His Cover Clan), Kiyaa’aanii (The Towering House Clan) and Ashiihi (Salt People). I dreamed of attending college and becoming an author. Growing up, I loved to read and write books. My mother and father are both from the Navajo Nation and spoke the Navajo language. I visited the Navajo Nation a few times every year, but I did not speak Navajo. I felt misplaced in the city for being Navajo, but I also didn’t feel that I belonged on the reservation since I didn’t speak my language. Because of this, I struggled with my identity at a young age. I was one of the few Native Americans at my school and I felt embarrassed to invite friends to see my home full of Pendleton blankets, feathers, rugs and pottery. I was ashamed of being Navajo and was in denial of my cultural origins. As I progressed through elementary school, I was asked to join a college readiness program called AVID (Advanced Via Individual Determination). Being a determined student, 32

I went home to prepare for my interview and I was happy to have been accepted in the program in sixth grade. Although my home life eventually became unstable, I decided to find structure in my education.

championed me for six years to take on leadership roles, ask questions, enroll in AP and honors-level courses, study for my SAT and ACT exams and develop study skills to use in college.

“I felt misplaced in the city for being Navajo, but I also didn’t feel that I belonged on the reservation since I didn’t speak my language. Because of this, I struggled with my identity at a young age. ”

When I graduated from high school, I was accepted into all of the in-state universities and was offered scholarships to each one. I decided to attend Arizona State University, where for the first time ever, I had Native classmates. I attended a “Student Preparedness Initiative: Readiness Inspired by Tradition” (SPIRIT) program, where I was given resources to adjust to campus life, build friendships and find mentors.

My AVID peers and I attended college visits, workshops, explored majors and, most importantly, learned how to find and apply for scholarships. I eventually became Vice President of the AVID club and also took office in a number of other clubs at my school. The AVID program

SPIRIT also gave me opportunities to network with other Indigenous students. These networking opportunities provided me with job and internship positions that were crucial to my acceptance into graduate school.

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Most importantly however,

the SPIRIT program opened my eyes and showed me there were other Native students living in the city, who have come from similar upbringings and shared similar problems. I learned that I was no longer alone. I am proud to share that I’ve graduated as a firstgeneration Indigenous scholar with honors distinction in May of 2019. I received my Bachelor of Science in Geography. After graduation, I volunteered at the World Ocean Conservancy in the West Indies, which entailed collecting and analyzing ocean waste data to address climate health. After my time in the Caribbean, I decided to pursue a master’s degree

in Elementary Education at Kansas State University.

“As a professional goal, I’d like to improve literacy rates amongst Native children.” As a professional goal, I’d like to improve literacy rates amongst Native children. I am currently a fifth grade student teacher at Norman Public Schools on Kikkaapoi (Kickapoo) lands. I will be graduating in the Spring of 2021. I currently hold a 4.0 GPA and am a member of the Native American Student Organization and

KNEA Aspiring Educators. Someday, I hope to pass on encouragement and developmental advice to another scholar, so they may follow their passion and pursue higher education. Although I’ve been supported by the AVID and SPIRIT programs, I’ve learned that my family, community, childhood teachers and friends have helped me persevere to attain my education. Abigail Celissia Johnson is a recipient of American Indian Graduate Center’s SHEP scholarship and was named the October 2020 Graduate Student of the Month.

neepwaantiinki LEARNING FROM EACH OTHER At the Myaamia Center, we’re reclaiming our Myaamia identity passing on our traditions and worldview fostering our kinship ties and community revitalizing our language and culture sharing with others through the National Breath of Life Institute


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Special thanks to our strategic partners for their continued support: Accenture American Indian Science And Engineering Society American Indigenous Business Leaders American Indian College Fund AMERIND Risk APIA Scholars Big Fire Law Bill And Melinda Gates Foundation Blue Stone Strategy Group Bureau Of Indian Education CNIGA FoodCorps Hispanic Scholarship Fund Indigenous Education, Inc. Johnson Scholarship Foundation Murdock Charitable Trust NDN Collective Nike N7 Northwestern University Poarch Band Of Creek Indians REDW LLC Rincon Band Of Luiseño Indians Salish Kootenai College Sandia National Laboratories San Manuel Band Of Mission Indians Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community UNCF United National Indian Tribal Youth Inc. Urban Native Era Wells Fargo 34

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Beadwork by: Linda King

Est. 1968



the american indian graduate | spring 2021 |


ALL NATIVE AMERICAN HIGH SCHOOL ACADEMIC TEAM American Indian Graduate Center is proud to share the honorees for the 2020 All Native American High School Academic Team, an annual cohort of students who have displayed an outstanding original academic, artistic or leadership endeavor.




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the american indian graduate | spring 2021 |





the american indian graduate | spring 2021 |



the american indian graduate | spring 2021 |


the american indian graduate | spring 2021 |


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Mitchell Rose Bear Don’t Walk, AIGC Alumna Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes

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the american indian graduate | spring 2021 |

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