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Vol. 15, No. 1 Winter 2013

INSIDE THIS ISSUE • New Class of Ambassadors • Board Members Legacy • AIO Represented at the United Nations • Comcast Foundation Partnership


Ma ru ah weh kah! Nūmū¿habinū — Greetings Family,

Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO) is happy to bring you the latest edition of The Ambassador, featuring a new class and marking an important milestone for the Program. The 2013/14 class of Ambassadors is the first to include international participants. We are so proud and excited to have the experience and background of Ambassadors from Bolivia, Peru, Samoa and Japan. These five emerging leaders are already adding their special medicine to AIO and the Program.

LaDonna Harris, Comanche

In addition to an international class, AIO is reinforcing our relationships with Indigenous peoples internationally. In this issue, you can read about Pam Villasenor (Fernañdo Tataviam Band, 2008/09) representing AIO at a United Nations meeting in Norway. In the spirit of Redistribution, current Ambassador Shuar Velasquez (Wampis-Awajύn) and his organization, Tiendo Puentes (Building Bridges), invited me to Lima, Peru to share my experience organzing the Council of Energy Resource Tribes. The conference brought together businesses and Indigenous leaders of the Peruvian Amazon to establish respectful and mutually beneficial partnerships.

I also had the great pleasure of representing AIO at the farewell celebration for Bentham Ohia (Maori, AIO Board) at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa (Maori University). You can read more about the event and Bentham’s trasition in this edition. And last December, Bentham and I traveled with alumni to Bolivia to celebrate the renewal of the Mayan calender with President Evo Morales. Settled back in the U.S., AIO and I are turning our attention to the redistribution of the Ambassador model of Indigenous value-based leadership development. With six pilot programs underway in Arizona, South Dakota, Minnesota and New Mexico, AIO is actively seeking funding to support Ambassador alumni as they share the Medicine of the Program with their communities and organizations. Learn more in this issue about one of the pilot Programs-- Yavapai Youth Ambassadors Program--led by a second generation Ambassador.

Finally, The Ambassador pays tribute to the legacy of four treasured AIO board members who have traveled on to the spirit world. AIO is grateful for these long serving and generous kinfolk. Minerva Jenkins, Elma Patterson, David Lester and Uncle Charlie Lohah were so very proud of the Ambassadors. Each had a special role in guiding AIO and shaping the Ambassadors Program. I will miss my dear friends, but we will long remember their many contributions. I know you will enjoy catching up with the Family as, together, we redistribute AIO’s medicine through the Ambassador model and as we continue our efforts to advance global Indigeneity. With all my love and best wishes,


THEIR LEGACY LIVES ON AIO is deeply grieved by the loss of four Board Members this past year. These long-serving AIO leaders made significant contributions to the organization and played pivotal roles in the AIO Family. All four served as original advisors in the creation of the Ambassadors Program. We will miss them and the strong and consistent leadership they provided AIO.

The longevity of AIO and our successful advocacy can be attributed to the activism of our wonderful board. These four very special board members provided a strong foundation and an incredible legacy that will continue to inspire the AIO Family. The Honorable Charles Lohah (Osage) AIO Board since 1973

“Uncle” Charlie, as most of us called him, made immeasurable contributions to Indian Country. He was (as far as The Ambassador knows) the first elected Native American judge. He was “LD’s” partner on countless projects from natural resource management to tribal governance. He told The Ambassador once that he lived a typical Osage life: “I was born rich and intelligent and I will die poor and insane.” While we won’t question his sanity, the last title Charlie held was Osage Supreme Court Chief Justice, being of service to his tribe till the end. David Lester (Creek) AIO Board since 1976

“Few people knew that long-time CEO of the Council of Energy Resource Tribes, Beaver, as he was known to his close friends, started his career as a dancer and canoe paddler at Disneyland’s Frontier Village,” Laura Harris fondly recalls. David committed his life to serving Native peoples. He held one of the highest Indian positions in the federal government when he was Commissioner of the Administration of Native Americans (ANA) during the Carter and Reagan Administrations and he was a founder of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development. He was remarkably intelligent and a good uncle.

The Honorable Minerva Jenkins (Mojave) Founding AIO Board 1970

Elected to the very first modern Mojave Tribal Council in 1957 and later becoming the first female Mojave tribal chair, Minerva dedicated her life to the improved wellbeing of her community. She was a master of tribal politics and added her keen intellect to national strategy. Minerva lent her brainpower to AIO as a founding board member, the last of our original board. Her fellow board member Elma Patterson and Minerva became sisters through AIO and often collaborated and vacationed together.

Elma Patterson (Tuscarora) AIO Board since 1972

The “woman of many firsts” is how LaDonna Harris remembers Elma. And as Laura can share, Elma had a no nonsense approach to everything she did. A very generous patron of AIO, Elma financially supported AIO’s Indigenous Resource Center, AIO’s library of more than 2,000 books, videos and audio tapes, which is named for her. Elma served on AIO’s Executive Board for more than 30 years. Her daughter Kyle accompanied Elma to the last AIO Board Meeting in Oklahoma where she got to hang out with AIO adopted family member, Johnny Depp which was a big hit with her grandkids.



GRACE McCULLAH Development Act (CEDA). At that time in the early 1970’s, she was working for Indian Development of Arizona (IDA) in Phoenix. Grace had heard of the influence LaDonna and Fred Harris were building to move what Grace calls the “powerhouses” in Congress. CEDA was developed to change the flow of federal funding so that monies could be awarded directly to tribal governments instead of through the states. Grace told The Ambassador that “LaDonna and Fred had a lot to do with changing those types of policies and with the passage of the Indian Self Determination Act. LaDonna and I shared the same attitude and approaches to improving the lives of Native peoples.” She joined the AIO board in 1972, making her one of the longest serving board members. After finishing her work with IDA, Grace established Navajos for Navajo Opportunity—AIO’s first spin off organization—which provided assistance to Navajo small business in the form of seed money, and help applying for bank loans to buy equipment and meet other essential business needs. She collaborated with many well-known leaders of the time, like Navajo President Peter McDonald, former Governor of Arizona, “One Eyed Jack” Williams, and Hawaiian Congresswoman Patsy Minks. She shook things up at Navajo and influenced economic development policy, brought awareness to women’s issues and fought racism.

By Shawna Sunrise Diné/Kewa Pueblo, 2003/04 As long as Grace McCullah (Navajo) can recall, she has had great respect and praise for the work that LaDonna Harris and Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO) have accomplished over its 43 years of working with Tribal America. “Like a sister” is how Grace defines her relationship with LaDonna, and she said she treasures their history of working together during Grace’s time of activism and advocacy, advancing economic opportunities for many communities across Indian Country.

Grace comes from Kinyaa’annii/ The Towering House Clan and born for Tl’aashchi’I/The Red Bottom People Clan. Both her parents were from Wheatfields, Arizona. Currently, she lives in Taos, NM. Grace’s involvement with AIO began when she was lobbying Congress for the Compressive Employment


Grace reflected, “One of AIO’s greatest legacies is the groundbreaking push for the Self-Determination Act and the return of Taos Blue Lake to the Taos people. I’m very proud that our organization was founded on those two great accomplishments. It has set the stage for all our future work.” Grace expressed her pride in being a part of what she calls, “this next level of activism” through the Ambassadors Program, especially the sharing of AIO’s core cultural values on an international platform. She emphasized that those same values have been with AIO since the beginning.

“I look forward to AIO board meetings and other events because I’m always excited to hear about the great work Ambassadors and the alumni are doing in their communities,” adds Grace. When asked why she continues to support AIO, Grace replied, “The work we are doing is truly making a difference and these young leaders who have come through the [Ambassadors] Program are keeping up the fight for their Nations and peoples just as I and AIO have done these past forty years.”

WHAT IS GOOD FOR MAORI, IS GOOD FOR AOTEAROA! and communities that Te Wānanga o Aotearoa is privileged to serve. Bentham attended 22 gatherings, each one memorable, celebrating the local character and flavour of its communities.

Tuakoi, Kate, Tahuaro, & Bentham Ohia

After 20 years of service, Bentham Ohia, AIO Board member and President of the Advancement of Maori Opportunity (AMO), has moved on from the role of Pouhere (CEO) of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa. Under Bentham’s values-based leadership, the institution has enjoyed growth, success and a reputation as a successful Māori higher education institution that services all communities. Bentham is leaving after a shift in the philosophy of the council that oversees the governance of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa. Staff and students petitioned for Bentham to reapply for the role, but it was clear that the Council wanted to move in a new direction.

Gifts and acknowledgements were accepted and appreciated, especially the heart-stopping surprise gift of LaDonna Harris’ presence at the final farewell in Palmerston North where 700 staff and national leaders gathered to celebrate with a performing arts competition and a formal dinner. Bentham acknowledges that his leadership is strengthened through AIO’s example and of course Mama LaDonna’s teachings. So, to all of you AIO and AMO whānau (family) that made this very special moment happen for Bentham, a huge mihi to you all. Who knew that Indians and Māori could keep a secret…Honestly!!

So what now? Bentham, Kate, Tuakoi and Tahuaroa are moving to Rotorua for six months to reflect, take stock, grow a new consultancy and re-energise AMO. The timing could not be better. This is a new time and space. “Bring it on!” says Bentham.

Bentham’s strength in applying the value of fostering relationships with local and international communities has ensured that Te Wānanga o Aotearoa is an integral part of the success landscape that is higher education in Indigenous communities. The 5 R’s (Relationships, Responsibility, Reciprocity, Redistribution and Respect) have held Bentham in good stead as he led a large waka (canoe) with over 35,000 students and 1300 staff around 35 campuses. Bentham spent the final months of his tenure travelling the country attending celebrations of Wānanga and saying his farewells. He started at the bottom of the South Island and journeyed through the many provinces

Native American Community Academy students visiting Aotearoa.



Kudos to Rosalyn LaPier (Blackfeet, 1993) for becoming a tenure-track professor at the University of Montana, making her one of the few Indians hired outside of the Native Studies Dept. In addition to spreading knowledge and enlightenment as a professor, Rosalyn is contributing her keen sense of justice through her recent appointment to the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council as an Indigenous Peoples Representative. Welcome back! James B. Lujan (Taos Pueblo, 1994), shortly after being hired as a professor at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), was appointed Chairman of the IAIA Film Department. We’re proud of James for nurturing the next generation of Indigneous filmmakers, and glad to have him back home. Not just another pretty face, Bird N. Runningwater (Cheyenne/ Mescalero Apache, 1996) was appointed to the Comcast/NBC Universal Joint Diversity Advisory Council. The Council assesses Comcast’s diversity and inclusion initiatives and participates in candid dialogue on diversity and inclusion best practices.

Janeen Comenote (Quinault/Hesquiaht/Oglala, 1999), writer extraordinaire, is published once again. Her article, “No Home in Indian Country” is part of a Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity series entitled America’s Growing Inequality: The Impact of Poverty & Race. Janeen’s paper briefly overviews the basic demographics and socioeconomic indicators in Native communities and provides recommendations for improving access to fair credit and housing for Native Americans. Several Ambassadors and Julie Nielson, Ph.D. (Ojibwe) provided support to Janeen for this special project. Good News/Good News! The good news for students and scholars is that Amanda J. Cobb (Chickasaw, 1998) has returned to an academic career as a professor at Oklahoma State University. The good news for the Chickasaws is that Lisa John (Chickasaw, 2001) has taken over the Chickasaw Nation’s Division of Culture and Humanities. At this Cabinet-level position, part of Lisa’s duties will be to oversee the beautiful Chickasaw Cultural Center! amanda.

Good news from Capitol Hill! Reid Walker (Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota, 1995) returns to Washington, D.C. as the new Communications Director for the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee. Mr. Hollywood—Jason Gavin (Blackfeet, 1996) is a successful T.V. writer with many great shows to his credit. Most recently, he joined the writing staff of Keifer Sutherland’s show “Touch” on Fox. In keeping with the 4 R’s, Jason is now giving back as the chair for the Writers Guild’s American Indian Committee, helping to ensure that Native writers have opportunity and access.


The Most Honorable Theresa Sheldon (Tulalip, 2008/09), busy mom, activist and expert in balancing work, family and politics, is freshly elected to the Tulalip governing board and newly promoted to Legislative Policy Analyst for the Tulalip Tribes. She told The Ambassador that AIO helped her in maturing and reaching her potential to take on these positions with big responsibilities. Theresa is definitely a woman who can do it all!

CORE CULTURAL CONNECTIONS It is the beginning of a new era at NAYA (Portland’s Native American Youth and Family Center). As Matt Morton (Squaxin, 2013/14) takes up the reins as the new NAYA Director, Nichole Maher (Tlingit, 2006/07) takes over the Northwest Health Foundation as President and CEO! Maher will lead the Foundation as they invest in the community health of Oregon and southwest Washington, providing support to address the root causes of health through community-driven, “upstream” solutions. 

Water! Water! After helping the Crow Nation win a mega water rights case, Heather White Man Runs Him (CrowAbsaalooke, 2003/04) moved to Boulder just in time for the flooding. Heather is the Deputy Executive Counsel the Native American Rights Fund where she is using her expertise to assist other tribes with water law.

Aloha and hoomaikai ana, lelo hoomaikai! to Marion Ano (Native Hawaiian, 2010/11) as she begins a new job. Marion is the building program assistant for the Hawaii Conservation Alliance. Bringing twelve years of natural and cultural resource management experience, Marion aims to explore the intersection between conservation, culture, education, scientific research and social responsibility.

Minnesota’s youth are in good hands with Michael Price (Ojibwa-Odawa, 1999) who was recently appointed Executive Director of the Native Youth Alliance of Minnesota. Michael’s philosophy that an investment in youth is an investment in the future has helped him build a successful career. We wish him the very best in his position and we know he will continue to accomplish great things. Going, going, gone but not too far! Ron Martinez Looking Elk (Isleta/Taos Pueblos, 2001) is consulting with the Isleta Casino where he helped with the transitional redesign of the facility, including the displays of nearly 100 local Native artists. This fall, Ron is developing Isleta’s first Pueblo Art Market.

Moving upward and onward (and closer to AIO), Andrea R. Hanley (Navajo, 1999) is now the Membership and Program Manager for the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA). Andrea wants to remind our gentle readers that for branding purposes we should refer to the IAIA Museum as MoCNA from now on. AIO is glad to have Andrea close at hand. She already helped organize a tour and special presentations at MoCNA for the 2013/14 Ambassadors. Thanks Andrea and welcome to the land of enchantment!

As a national leader in education, Dr. Robin Minthorn (Kiowa, 2008/09) was elected to both the National Indian Education Association and the National Indian Youth Council governing boards. All the while, she is teaching educational leadership at the University of New Mexico. Currently, Robin is pushing for a Master’s degree program in Native American Studies at UNM. AIO is lucky to have Robin and her husband, Gabe, as neighbors. *Shawn Johns Sighting* As of this printing, the last known whereabouts of Shawn Johns (Cheyenne River Sioux/Tlingit, 1996) was Washington state where he has established Greiger Johns Associates. Fast-Track, phone home!


CORE CULTURAL CONNECTIONS Being of service, Jennifer Hill-Kelley (Oneida/Kiowa/ Comanche, 2008/09) now sits on the Trust and Enrollment Committee that manages the tribe’s trust funds and citizenship requirements. Jennifer sought this position because she will help the tribe make socially responsible investments, and she hopes to bring the 4 R’s into developing conversations about Oneida identity. She told The Ambassador that she added another R –Resilience!

The Yurok-Maori members of the AIO/AMO Family are on the move, relocating to New Zealand where Reweti Wiki (Maori Ambassador) is finishing his law degree, Geneva Wiki (Yurok, 2003/04) and their girls (Te Maia, 8 and Keeya, 5) will immerse themselves in Māori culture and New Zealand life. “It’s important that we give the kids time with their whanau and to experience the other half of their ‘Mindian identity’” Geneva told The Ambassador. They are living in Wellington, the Capital, where Reweti is also a policy advisor for the Office of Treaty Settlements a government institution charged with settling historical grievances of Māori tribes against the Crown - and Geneva continues her role as Executive Director of the Wild Rivers Community Foundation based in Northern California. Certainly they’re happy to host random Indians who happen to be in Aotearoa! 


Earlier this year, the new Curator for the Hatathi Museum and Archives at Diné College, Nonabah Sam (Diné/ Tesuque Pueblo, 2008/09), celebrated the official open house for the new Archives building on the Tsaile Campus. Nonabah is proud of the state of the art facility which is named for the parents of AIO board member Faith Roessel, Ruth and Bob Roessel, founders of Diné College. In addition to the opening, Nonabah told The Ambassador that she is meeting the goals she set herself, including drafting a collections policy and hiring some help. 

Miranda Belarde-Lewis (Zuni/Tlingit, 2006/07), a scholar and mother, earned her Ph.D. in Information Science from the University of Washington. Dr. Belarde Lewis’ dissertation focused on the use of intellectual property rights as protection of Indigenous knowledge, and the artistic methods used by Zuni Pueblo to document and protect the sacred. histories.

Janeen Comenote (Quinault/Hesquiaht/Oglala, 1999) invited AIO executive director Laura Harris (Comanche) to participate in the UN’s 6th World Urban Forum ( in Naples, Italy last year. The National Urban Indian Family Coalition ( helped to orchestrate the first official panel on Indigenous peoples ever at the World Urban Forum (WUF). Janeen was joined by official delegates from New Zealand, Canada and Australia. The next WUF will be held in Bogota, Columbia and Janeen is already planning the second Indigenous peoples panel. One of AIO’s light was recognized by Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval. Christina Thomas (Northern Paiute/ Western Shoshone, 2010/11) is the 2013 Northern Nevada recipient for the Governor’s Points of Light Award. The award recognizes inspiring and incredible volunteer efforts within the state.

Way to be connected! Earlier this year, Matt Morton (Squaxin, 2013/14) hosted his classmate Courtney Ruark-Thompson (Cherokee Nation, 2013/14) and Principle Chief of the Cherokee Nation, Bill Baker at NAYA. Matt was proud to show off the plans for NAYA’s innovative intergenerational housing complex, the Generations Projects. 

3 Generations of the

Ambassadors Gift By Brittany Simmons Waccamaw Siouan, 2010/11

Deep in the heart of Arizona, in the

town of Prescott, the gift of the AIO

Ambassadors Program continues to grow as Hunter Badilla completed the Yavapai

Young Ambassadors Program this fall. Linda

Ogo (Yavapai Prescott, 2003/04) developed the

youth leadership project as her AIO Community

Initiative in 2006 when the first class of Yavapai Ambassadors completed the program.

Since Linda’s time in the Program, many things have

changed in Yavapai country. Once the language arts and media coordinator, Linda was elected to Tribal Council

Left to Right: Audray Ogo Harley, Hunter Badilla, Linda Ogo

and became a mother. Currently, Linda is the Director

The Yavapai Young Ambassadors Program is one of six

Ambassadors Program for Yavapai youth. Linda summed

“Ambassador-like” programs, nurtured by AIO and led

of Cultural Research and, now, Audray Ogo-Harley

(Yavapai Prescott, 2006 YYAP*) is directing a new up the process, “Established leaders are building

reciprocal relationships with emerging leaders and

Audray is responsible for redistributing the Ambassador experience to a new group of kids.”

Each Ambassador is required to develop and implement

a community project during their tenure in the Program, honing the Ambassador’s leadership skills while being

of direct benefit to the community. Ambassadors attain experience in community engagement and overcoming barriers. Past Ambassador initiatives have included a study on dual-taxation, encouraging breastfeeding, a

half-way house and many youth development projects.

A list and descriptions of the current class’ Community Initiatives will be published and online this later this month.

official AIO “pilot” programs. Guided by the advice of

the Alumni Council formed in Portland last year, these

by Alumni, will expand and share the Medicine. AIO is

seeking funding to develop curriculum in a multi-media

format that can be distributed to Ambassadors who wish to adapt the Ambassadors model for the needs of their community or organization.

“The sharing and regeneration of the Program is truly a gift from the alumni,” observed LaDonna Harris

(Comanche), President of AIO. “What Linda and Audray

have accomplished,” continues LaDonna, “is a legacy that the AIO Board of Directors is very proud of and we hope that many more Ambassadors continue to share the gift

that keeps on giving—to AIO, to the Ambassador network and to me personally.”

* Yavapai Young Ambassadors Program


Reflections on the first 2013/14

AMBASSADOR EXPERIENCE By 2013-14 Ambassadors: Dewey Kk’oLeyo Hoffman, Koyukon, Ruby, Alaska | Marisa Page, Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma

Who we are

From Alaska to Samoa, from Hawaii to Bolivia, from Japan to Peru, and across the lower 48, seventeen Indigenous people began their journey as AIO’s thirteenth class of Ambassadors in July 2013. From across the Pacific, across the Andes, from the jungles of the Amazon, from four hemispheres, across flat and rocky regions of the world AIO gathered us. Celebrating 20 years of this amazing program, the class embarked on a journey that will change the perception of our world, our lives, and our “ways of knowing,” as Indigenous provocateurs.

1 As we listened to family histories, stories of oppression, and descriptions of cultural identity, we instantly experienced solidarity – each of us seeks to leave some mark of positive transformation, a return to living well breathes among our people.

The butterfly effect of our actions can feel daunting at times, so – as we walk our paths and help each other discover how we will build ingenuities that will strengthen our communities – we share and laugh and tease like cousins, brothers and sisters, building connections that will last a lifetime.

What we experienced We immediately began by getting to know one another through the lens of AIO’s signature structured dialogue, “Where do you get your medicine?” As we struggled through the day to answer this question individually, there was an immediate bond formed. The sharing of our families, our traditions, our past, our hurts, and of our joys gave an insight into what has molded us as Indigenous human beings, giving each one of us a new appreciation for our new brothers and sisters. 2


Each Ambassador crafted an impression of goodness and a stance for what we believe in as Indigenous peoples with distinct values and perspectives. So precious and subtle is our duty to continue our ways and continue to build the path for future generations just as our families have done for us despite insane obstacles.

Throughout the week-long gathering, the class networked and engaged in meaningful dialogue with tribal and Pueblo leaders and professionals from communities across the Southwestern United States. Some of the highlights included meeting with the Deputy Cabinet Secretary of New Mexico Indian Affairs, Duane Duffy (Mescalero Apache); having lunch with Jemez Elders and Grammy Award Winning entertainer,

Robert Mirabal (Taos Pueblo); hearing a poetry reading by Navajo Nation Poet Laureate Luci Tapahonso; discussing art and activism with Bob Haozous (Chiricahua Apache); sharing community organizing tips with Albuquerque activist Sonny Weahkee (Dineh/Cochiti); and attending the AIO Reception with Peace Pipe Award Winner fashionista Patricia Michaels (Taos Pueblo) and Spirit of Taos Blue Lake Award Winner Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo.

The Gift

Pueblo movement and song; Ainu mouth harp twanging clumsily on the tongue; ancestors watching behind a black and white veil made alive with chuckles and soft tears; Andean reveries; shifts of thought and mind; breathing in empowerment and strength in belonging; cultivating kindness and nourishment.

LINIER YAPU GUTIERREZ Huatajata, 2013/14

Through the Ambassadors Program the class is given amazing gifts: the gift of the 4 R’s (relationships, responsibility, reciprocity, and redistribution), the gift of one another, the gift of camaraderie, and the gift of growth. As an Ambassador, our job is to share the gifts and uphold these values, and continue to be good stewards in our everyday lives for our families, communities, and for our Mother Earth.

“AIO honored me when I was made a part of the Family,

where we speak of principles and values that are vital to living in harmony. The 4

Gathering One was filled with amazing Indigenous people, including 25 Ambassador alumni who were there to encourage and celebrate our class and share their understandings, knowledge, and values to assist us in becoming healthier—mind, body and spirit—for our communities. We and our classmates anxiously anticipate the next gathering.

R’s, Mamma LaDonna and my fellow Ambassadors

moved me and woke within

us all the power to teach our brothers and sisters about this Medicine. Neither the

conquerors nor modern times can make us forget what our Mother Earth has taught us

since time immemorial. This


Medicine, we carry it with us. It is there. It is present. We

only have to revive it. It is a fire that never burnt out.”

3 1. 2. 3. 4.

Naoka Tateshita presents her family history. Shuar Valesquez shares his family history with Ambassadors. Ambassador Dewey Hoffman introduces himself at the Jemez Senior Center. Ambassadors in disccussion at LaDonna’s home in Albuquerque, NM.

View more pics on page 17 or Scan QR Code!


2013/14 AMBASSADORS First Gathering



This summer, AIO, the Tucson Indian Center and the National Urban Indian Families Coalition, hosted the first Native Voice Network (NVN) Convening in Albuquerque. The NVN is a national alliance of organizations interested in collaborative advocacy on issues impacting Native American communities locally and nationally. The purpose of the NVN is to build capacity of network member organizations and communities they serve by sharing information and taking collective action to amplify the voice of Native working families. The NVN provides a marketplace of ideas and opportunities to share current issues and concerns. The event was almost an Ambassador reunion with Chrissie Castro (Dine, 2006-07) facilitating the dialogue. Ambassadors in attendance were Janeen Comenote (Quinault/Hesquiaht/Oglala, 1999), Matthew Morton (Squaxin Island Tribe, 2013/14), Dalene Coriz (Santo Domingo Pueblo, 2013/14), Carnell Chosa (2006/08, Jemez Pueblo), and Kevin Killer (Oglala Lakota/Kiowa, 2013/14). 

The AIO Legacy Projects As AIO prepares to celebrate its 44th Anniversary and 20 years of the Ambassadors Program, four initiatives are currently underway that will help share the legacy of AIO’s influence. The Legacy Projects include a film, a book, a study and LaDonna Harris’ memoirs. The film, Indian 101, which chronicles the work of LaDonna Harris, is in the final stages of editing. LaDonna is working on

capturing her memories. She is currently editing the initial rough draft. An Anthology of AIO’s publications followed by the comments of Indigenous scholars, evaluating and demonstrating the wide range of topics AIO has taken up and relaying the historical significance and current relevance of the publications and AIO’s work. The Ambassador Community Impact Study is nearing completion, documenting the impact that the Ambassadors have had on their communities. Laura Harris, AIO CEO explained, “The AIO Legacy Projects will tell an important part of modern Indian history. How things got done. How Native leaders changed policy and charted a new course for Tribal America. AIO was a part of that movement and we want to draw attention to AIO’s archives at the University of New Mexico Center for Southwest Research. AIO’s papers have been called the finest collection of modern Native American history in the country.”

AIO Honors Ysleta del Sur Pueblo

The Taos Blue Lake Spirit of Indigeneity Award was awarded to the Pueblo of Ysleta Del Sur this past July. AIO applauds the Pueblo’s courageous acts of self-determination and sovereignty. Their economic stability and steadfast dedication to defining citizenship without blood quantum is a tremendous accomplishment. Ysleta del Sur leaders were honored during AIO’s Ambassadors Community Reception at the Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.


Building Awareness – Indian 101

AIO was happy to provide presentations of Indian 101 over the last several months

 Teach for America AIO hosted the Teach for America (TFA) Senior Staff during their staff retreat last Fall in New Mexico. LaDonna and Laura provided an informative Indian 101 session. The group used LD’s house to share a meal and wander the compound in reflection and discussion. In Addition, Laura spoke to the group about New Mexico history and community at a leadership panel. AIO is committed to the success of TFA teachers as they have a direct impact on Native communities. AIO considers the relationship a priority as TFA continues to place more teachers in tribal communities across the nation.

developing a webinar version of Indian 101 so that we can reach even more Congressional staffers.

 The Peace Crop

As AIO nurtures a new relationship (reviving a 1970’s collaboration), Laura presented Indian 101 to the Peace Corp’s new regional recruiters. Laura also met with senior Peace Corp staff, including CEO Carrie Hessler-Radelet, to discuss strategies for increasing the number of Native Peace Corp volunteers and linking Ambassadors to some of the Indigenous communities the Peace Corp serves around the world.

LaDonna Harris Honorary Chair of Tribal Archives Conference

 Visitors from China

Two visitors from the People’s Republic of China, Mr. Jiang Pan, Ph.D. and Ms. Lei Zhai, Ph.D. stopped by the AIO office for a presentation of AIO’s Indian 101. Pan is the Director of the International Cooperation Department in the Chinese Association of Small and Medium Commercial Enterprises (CASME) and Zhai is a Lecturer at the Zhou Enlai School of Government at Tianjin Nankai University. The two scholars were most interested in federal/tribal relations and the special government-to-government relationship. Their visit was arranged by the National Council for International Visitors (NCIV) based in Washington, D.C. The Albuquerque chapter often includes AIO when they arrange meetings for international emerging leaders and their U.S. counterparts to discuss common interests and to share ideas.


Letitia Chambers, chair for the Association for Tribal Archives, Libraries and Museums (ATALM), recognized LaDonna Harris as the Honorary Chair for the 2013 ATALM International Conference. Andrea Hanley (Navajo, 1999), Jason Asenap (Comanche/Creek, 2008/09), Nonabah Sam (Diné/Teseque Pueblo, 2008/09), John Beaver (Muscogee Creek, 2008/09) and Theresa Peterson (Upper Sioux, 20003/04), were among the AIO Family who attended the conference held at the Tamaya Resort on the Santa Ana Pueblo in New Mexico earlier this year. LaDonna said, “I always wanted to be a librarian growing up so this award  Congressional Staff is special to me.” LaDonna added, “Information is power.” Laura Harris traveled Capitol Hill to present Indian She said she applauds ATALM for their dedication to 101 for the staff of newly elected U.S Representative maintain a network of support for Indigenous-controlled Raul Ruiz (CA-36). Focusing on the eleven tribes in information, how it’s stored and shared and presented to Congressman Ruiz’ southern California district, Laura the rest of the world. AIO executive director, Laura Harris, brought the Ruiz staff up to speed on modern tribal joined Andrea and John on a panel to discuss the impact of governments. In addition, Congressman Ben R. Lujan the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NM-3) set up a briefing for the staff of the House on Native communities through former NMAI employees, Committee on Natural Resources. AIO is currently trainees and interns. Learn more at

Taos Pueblo Fashionista Receives AIO Award

for the NM Department of Natural Resources and President of the Institute of American Indian Arts. AIO is lucky to have Kathryn’s vast experience and expertise continue to shape the Ambassadors Program

AIO Welcomes Ambassador Alumni as New Staff Members

Fashion designer Patricia Michaels (Taos Pueblo) was awarded the AIO Oyate Pipe Award in July 2013 at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In honor of the late Gene Crawford (Sisseton Sioux) AIO’s former Vice President, the award honors individuals who have created positive change and made everlasting contributions to Indigenous peoples and communities. Patricia was presented the award at the Ambassadors Community Reception.

AIO Advisor Named Influential Educator AIO’s own Kathryn Harris Tijerina (Ambassador Program Advisor) was named one of twenty-one educators who have had the most influence in Indian education. The University of Iowa published a research study in the spring of 2013 that listed individuals and organizations as having been most influential in Native American education policy. Among those recognized, five are Comanche, like Kathryn. The study stated that part of Kathryn’s contribution was in addressing cultural relevancy and identity as key to a child’s education. The AIO Family has been the recipient of Kathryn’s audible hugs and good advice for years as she was among the original group of advisors who established the Ambassadors Program. Kathryn’s resume includes the Indian Policy Review Commission, Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Deputy Secretary

AIO Ambassadors always find a way to connect back to the AIO gang. Brittany Simmons (Waccamaw Siouan, 2010/11) picked up and moved from North Carolina to New Mexico to join our team as the Director for Leadership Initiatives. Brittany directed the first 2013/14 Class Gathering and continues to get the job done! Shawna Sunrise (Diné/Kewa Pueblo, 2003/04) joined TEAM AIO as Social Media and Public Relations Specialist. Shawna has already improved AIO’s presence online and is documenting many AIO events and projects! Welcome to these two extraordinary individuals.


PostcardfromBolivia Dear AIO Family,

Greetings from the Isla del Sol in Lake Titicaca! Bentham Ohia, President of the Advancement of Maori Opportunity and I were so proud to have been invited by President Evo Morales along with thousands of Indigenous leaders and activists from around the world to Bolivia in celebration of a new cycle in the Mayan Calendar – a time of balance and harmony with Pachu Mama or our Mother Earth. Brian Golding (Quechan, 1998) and Carnell Chosa (Jemez, 2006/07) joined us in the festivities. The organizers emphasized the concept of Vivir Bien or “qhapaq” – Living Well, in balance with nature and with a strong cultural

Learn more!


identity, in consensus and complementarity. Together we are already living the prophecy of the Eagle and the Condor, uniting Indigenous peoples from North and South America. I hope you will read more about these concepts and Indigenous worldviews at

AIO REPRESENTED AT THE UNITED NATIONS By Pamela Villasenor Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, 2008/09 In June 2013, I traveled to Alta, Norway on behalf of Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO). I served as a North American Indigenous Peoples Caucus (NAIPC) delegate at the Global Indigenous Preparatory Conference (GIPC) to help plan the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (WCIP) to be held in New York City in September 2014. The Sámi Parliament of Norway hosted the Preparatory meeting. The Sámi are the Indigenous people of Northern Norway. Over 600 Indigenous peoples, delegates and observers attended As I met the participants from around the world, I was amazed at how AIO navigates the international geopolitical waters skillfully and with foresight, often setting trends and gaining allies. Of course, at the GIPC, I met other North American delegates who knew of AIO, were friends with an Ambassador or had fought alongside our AIO founders.

To be clear, international travel is exciting, but this work is not glamorous with North America Caucus meetings until midnight, three full conference work days, getting in heated discussion over the exact wording in a document and understanding that the reality for some Indigenous peoples (IPs) in other regions was our reality 100 years ago. There were many enjoyable activities, like visiting a camp along the river with Sami Parliament officials, listening to throat singers from the arctic, developing friendships with climate change activists from Tokeau (in the Pacific) and receiving an offer to live in Siberia.

During the three day conference, we drafted a statement that was endorsemented by all seven global IPs regions. The Statement of 72 Indigenous Nations and Ten Indigenous Organizations ensure that IPs voices are heard within the United Nations. With the WCIP approaching, we need to take up responsibility to shape the message and institutionalize Indigenous involvement in the United Nations. I am honored to have represented AIO and the Ambassador Alumni. I was inspired to meet Indigenous peoples from around the world and deeply moved by the generosity of the “reindeer people,” including the Sami who generously shared their home, culture and hearts. Yes, I visited Sámi, but I didn’t get to ride any reindeer.

The IPs group made the following three recommendations for action:

1. Establish a new UN body responsible for promoting state monitoring and implementation of the DRIP, 2. Implement a specifically designed three-pronged approach to address violence against Indigenous women, 3. Provide Indigenous peoples a dignified and appropriate status for participating regularly in UN activities.

Get full list by Scanning QR Code, or visit website!

The full text is available on the web at


COMCAST JOINS THE AIO FAMILY By Shawna Sunrise, Diné/Kewa Pueblo, 2003/04

Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO) is pleased to announce that the Comcast Foundation has recently joined the AIO Family with a major contribution to the Ambassadors Program. Comcast is sponsoring the participation of one lucky Ambassador of the 2013/14 Class. This year, that’s Matt Morton (Squaxin Island Tribe), Executive Director of the Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA).

areas,” said Black. “But when I met Janeen Comenote (Quinault/Hesquiaht/Oglala, 1999) and Nichole Maher (Tlingit 2006/07), I learned that 65% of Native Americans are living in cities.”

In a recent visit to AIO, Black said that he is always pleased when he meets Ambassador Alumni though his work with Native organizations, and he told us that he asks young Natives he meets if they are AIO Ambassadors. If they are not, Black asks them why not.

Comcast has a long track record of investing in community. The Corporation which was founded in 1963 has worked to build and strengthen relationships AIO is excited to with community partners partner with Comcast, to make a difference, as the Foundation is improve neighborhoods working with several Eilene Vaughn-Pickrell, Brittany Simmons, Laura Harris & Bill Black and create lasting results. Native organizations Comcast strives to power dreams in the communities and Indian urban centers, providing programs like they serve by providing access to innovative basic computer literacy through hands on digital arts technology, employee volunteerism, financial support programs. Part of the Comcast Foundation’s primary and partnerships with organizations, like AIO. mission is building tomorrow’s leaders. Black said he is impressed with AIO’s intergenerational approach of AIO became acquainted with Bill Black, Director of leadership development, adding, “LaDonna’s ability to Public Affairs for Comcast, when, through a grant teach people to lead is like the Chinese proverb about from Comcast to the National Urban Indian Families teaching a person to fish. Her vision, hard work and Coalition (NUIFC), AIO helped to host an Albuquerque experience empower a critical mass of Ambassadors to urban Indian roundtable. Black was intrigued with connect the dots through a dynamic network.” AIO is AIO’s Ambassadors Program and the alumni network. grateful for this special relationship with Comcast and “In the past, Comcast hadn’t worked with many Native looks forward to working on future projects to nurture communities because our markets serve mostly urban the next generation of Indigenous leaders.



If you are a federal employee, you can choose AIO as your designated charity - CFC# 11942 You can go to and click Donate Now You can donate through Please contact if you would like more Or you can set up a reoccurring credit card deduction plan information about leaving AIO a bequest. You can send a check or call with credit card: Americans for Indian Opportunity 1001 Marquette Avenue, NW Albuquerque, NM 87102 505-842-8677

*Represents gifts of $200 or more

INDIVIDUAL DONORS* Andria Agli Sumiko and Don Allison Shenan Atcitty Paul Bardacke Christine Cadena Vincent Castro, CDM Group, Inc. Letitia Chambers Patricia and David Cohen Nedra Darling & Bowman Cox Amos Elliston Edward Gabriel & Kathleen Linehan Jean Hardisty Byron Harris Fred Harris and Marg Elliston LaDonna Harris Ellen and Norman Hasbrouck Jennifer Hill-Kelley

Dixie Hopple Valorie Johnson Bobbie & Bill Kilberg John Kincaid Richard J. Lairscey Eric G Lewno Janet and Charles Lohah Lorraine Lyman Machel Mahsetky Shannon Martin John D. Moreno Michael D. Nephew Elma Patterson Tom Peckham Jeff Perlis Teresa Peterson Peter Pringle & Eleanor Randolph Leah & Steve Sachs Akemi Shimada

Yuko and Michael Singer Faith Roessel & Matthew Slater Harvey Sheldon Ron Solimon Terry Tanner Gilbert Thompson Jennifer Tilly Eddie Tullis Susanna Ulrich Katherine Vance Judy Winchester Kathryn Washburn-Niskanen Anne Zill

The Ford Foundation Glen Green Galleries William C. Graustein Memorial Fund W.K. Kellogg Foundation

Hobbs, Straus, Dean & Walker LLP State Street Foundation, Inc.

Iroots Media, LLC Native American Community Academy New Mexico Community Foundation Peace Corp Railyard Stewards

Teach for America Tendieno Puentes (Peru) Tokatakiya Yuwiyeya (Sisseton Leadership Prog.) University of Montana Yavapai Youth Ambassadors Program

TRIBES Pueblo of Taos San Manuel Band of Mission Indians

FOUNDATIONS & CORPORATIONS American Express Foundation Amerigroup Charitable Foundation Marguerite Casey Foundation Comcast Foundation

PARTNERS Advancement of Maori Opportunity (New Zealand) AinuWIN (Japan) American Indian Association of Tucson First Nations Community Healthsource Dakota Wicohan (Upper Sioux Language Prog.)




1001 Marquette Avenue, NW Albuquerque, NM 87102 P: 505.842.8677


LaDonna Harris, Comanche Founder & President

Eddie Tullis, Poarch Creek Vice President

Ivan Posey, Eastern Shoshone Co-Vice President

Gilbert H. Thompson Mississippi Band of Choctaw Treasurer

Amanda Cobb, Chickasaw Nation Co-Secretary

James Washinawatok, Menominee/Akwesasne Mohawk Assistant Secretary/Treasurer Michael Chapman, Menominee Finance Committee Chair

STAFF • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

John Beaver, Muscogee Creek Mary Jo Butterfield, Makah Kate Cherrington, Maori Alexander Christakis, Cretan Andrew Ebona, Tlingit Louie LaRose, Winnebago/Ute Jerry Muskrat, Cherokee Grace McCullah-Ryan, Navajo Bentham Ohia, Maori Teresa Peterson, Dakota Upper Sioux Faith Roessel, Navajo LeeAnn Sperling, Maori Terry Tanner, Salish/Kootenai Nation Judy Winchester, Pokagon Band Potawatomi

Laura Harris, Comanche Executive Director Brittany Simmons, Waccamaw Siouan, 2010/11 Director for Leadership Initiatives Mary I. Lewis, Jemez Pueblo Office Administrator Shawna Shandiin Sunrise, Diné (Navajo)/Kewa(Santo Domingo Pueblo), 2003/04 Social Media and Public Relations Specialist Danielle Romero, Taos Pueblo Projects Coordinator Matthew Skeets, Navajo Public Relations Intern Roland Cheeku, Zuni Pueblo Senior Fellow Amber Lucero, Jemez Pueblo College Intern Sam Goodhope, Comanche/Inupiaq Administrative Assistant

The Ambassador, Winter 2013  

A Publication of Americans for Indian Opportunity.

The Ambassador, Winter 2013  

A Publication of Americans for Indian Opportunity.