PRESIDENT’S LETTER | STUDENT SPOTLIGHT | DONOR SPOTLIGHT | OUR PROGRAMS | COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
Come meet some of our exceptional students – including Jasmine, Roland, Celina, Blue, and Levi – at our 30th Anniversary Flame of Hope Gala! Even if you’re unable to attend, we hope you find our scholars’ stories inspiring.
“I intend to work in environmental policy so I can help the country’s most vulnerable communities build much-needed capacity. I want to make sure that tribal communities and cultures like ours will be able to continue to thrive no matter what unforeseeable challenges a climate changed world throws at us. With your support, I know I’ll succeed beyond my wildest dreams. I look forward to seeing you at the Flame of Hope Gala!”
“I started my educational journey wanting to work toward a degree in IT. Then I got the unexpected opportunity to intern with the US Department of Agriculture. It changed my whole perspective. Now my goal is to one day work for the Office in Partnerships and Public Engagement, which would give me the chance to truly give back to my community. Thanks to everyone who donates to the College Fund for helping me find my path, and I look forward to meeting everyone at the Flame of Hope Gala.”
“My generation is the era of tribal self-determination; I am determining my future by utilizing my education and cultural foundation. Aside from providing financial support, my College Fund scholarship allowed me to explore what Indian Education means to me. It has and continues to impact my ability to advocate and educate others on how American Indians can provide a unique perspective to the scientific community. Right now in the field of wildlife biology, there are only three Native American women who have a PhD. I want to be the fourth. Having an education is an accomplishment no one can diminish.”
Celina (Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians of Montana)
“As we continue to tell our own stories, we empower the citizens of our nations. When I graduate, I will be able to teach classrooms full of Native students and improve American Indian visibility in the writing and teaching profession. It’s just another step in addressing American Indian representation in our students’ higher education journeys. Your support of the College Fund has made my own journey possible, and it will be my honor to thank you in person at the Flame of Hope Gala.”
Blue (Muscogee [Creek] Nation)
“My dream is to obtain my nursing degree. Whether I wind up as a nurse, a nurse practitioner, or a midwife – all of which I’m considering – I know that I will have a real impact on my tribe and my community. More than anything, though, I want to give back to the College Fund, which has helped make my dream of becoming a nurse a reality. And if along the way I can help make someone else’s dream a reality, it would make this opportunity all the more worth it. Look for my big smile at this year’s Flame of Hope Gala.”
Adam returned to his community to study business administration with one goal in mind — to use his education to help his tribe grow and be prosperous. And his dream of making a difference in his community has inspired a deeper and more personal journey; learning about his people and his culture through his education at the College of Menominee Nation.
As one of the first tribes to be colonized, Adam understands how empowering reclaiming his traditional knowledge can be when combined with economic growth. “All the internships I’m doing, all the studying I’m doing, all the research I’ve been involved in, and all the presentations I’ve done— it all boils down to you seeing something in me. Seeing that I deserve to be a student and that I deserve to get the support to continue my studies. Thank you.”
Ashley not only sees early childhood education as an opportunity to create a lifelong love of learning for Native children at an early age, she also sees education as a way to restore the educational independence the boarding school era took from her community. “I know how smart and able my Native American peers and community members are. I know how much potential they have.”
Ashley knows firsthand how transformative education can be, “I went through a lot to get where I am now. And through that process, I’ve come to realize how powerful my voice is.” And she’s not the only one. Many of her fellow students and colleagues at Navajo Technical University are increasing their investment in their education. “It’s really empowering to see. We are starting to realize how powerful education really is, especially to us as an indigenous community.”
Brittany knows that when it comes to fair and equitable representation, being present is just the first step to big change. After she completes her criminal justice degree at United Tribes Technical College, Brittany wants to become a federal prosecutor. “There’s really an underrepresentation of minorities in the judicial system and it creates an imbalance. I want to address racial bias and create awareness of Native Americans.
I want to be the voice of the people who can’t represent themselves and help others understand our point of view.” Representation is the first step to big change and education is the next. “Knowledge is power. I’ve experienced that in my own educational journey. The more I know, the more powerful I feel. The more I see the world differently. And my wish is for all Native Americans to experience that too.”
Like many of our students, Christen is pursuing multiple disciplines in college because she knows that in order to meet the needs of her community, its going to take creativity, imagination, hard work and determination. That’s why she’s chosen to attend Montana State University to pursue a dual degree in business management and Native American studies.
This degree combination will give her the educational foundation to pursue her dream of not only opening a wellness center in her community, but also keeping it funded – providing a safe space to everyone that needs it. “I get emotional when I think about the impact your support has had on me. Just knowing that somebody out there believes in you – it’s getting a chance you didn’t know you had. I can take another step because you’re right behind me.”
“My generation is the era of tribal self-determination; I am determining my future by utilizing my education and cultural foundation.” Such powerful words demonstrate the importance of higher education for students like Celina, who aspires to work with Native American Tribes and their resource programs at a federal level. “Aside from providing financial support, my College Fund scholarship allowed me to explore what Indian Education means to me. It has and continues to impact my ability to advocate and educate others on how American Indians can provide a unique perspective to the scientific community.”
Celina already knows the direction she’s taking when she graduates from Salish Kotenai College with her environmental science degree. “Right now in the field of wildlife biology, there are only three Native American women who have a PhD. I want to be the fourth. Having an education is an accomplishment no one can diminish.”
“I’m Native, I’m Latina, I’m a daughter, a grand-daughter, a sister, a student.”
When speaking with Chloe, it is clear she is smart, focused, ambitious and creative. It’s also clear she wants people to see her for the unique individual she is.
As a student at Chief Dull Knife College, she first earned her associate’s degree in science, and now, motivated by a combined love for her tribe and culture along with her love of science, she is working toward her bachelor’s degree in biology. Ultimately Chloe would like to create new media focused on teaching Native kids about their culture and how modern and traditional science can work together to inspire healthier lives in Native communities.
“Oftentimes people think about tribal peoples in a certain way, but I’m a great example of how diverse we are and how we can marry our traditional knowledge with modern technology and approaches. It’s so important to me to help people understand how valuable the Native perspective is in creating stronger solutions to so many of our world’s problems. All of us have the perspectives of our diverse backgrounds, experiences and successes – and it all has value.”
“I’m so grateful for the support I receive from the American Indian College Fund. It not only helps me with things like tuition, book fees, and transportation, but it helps knowing that someone believes in me even when I doubt myself. It’s a real motivator for me to continue.”
Chloe excels in school, maintaining a 4.0 GPA and has received several awards for outstanding achievement. Today, she is in her final year at CDKC and she thanks donors like you, whose continued support will help push her through this last leg of her educational journey.
Thanks to your generosity, Chloe’s future looks brighter than ever.
“I became a lawyer for one reason: to serve Indian Country. I believe the law is one of the most powerful tools Native nations can leverage to revitalize our communities.”
Colleges can foster inclusive, welcoming environments for Native students if they commit to that goal and put real resources toward it. My undergraduate institution, Stanford, did a pretty good job, and as a result, other Native students and I thrived there, graduated, and are now making a difference for Indian Country. The large number of Native students meant we were surrounded by a diverse and supportive Native community. And in our classes, we weren’t the only Native voice and expected to speak for all of Indian Country. We also saw ourselves in the fabric of our campus – from our wonderful Native American Cultural Center, to our Native-themed dorm named after the tribe whose land Stanford was built upon, Muwekma. We have our annual student-run powwow, and supportive Native and non-Native faculty and staff throughout the university. At Stanford, I had access to culturally appropriate resources when I needed help, and the necessary support when I wanted to pursue academic and other endeavors that were important to me and my community.
Fast forward to Yale Law School, where my experience could have not been more different. Law school is notoriously difficult for just about everyone, but for me, it was a particular struggle. When I enrolled in 2013, I was the only Native student in the entire school, and among only a handful of Native graduate students throughout the entire university. The last Native student had graduated from the law school in 2010 – three years before I got there. I knew this was going to be the situation, but I decided to attend anyway. Yale Law School is considered the best in the country, and I wanted to get not only the best legal education I could, but also the credibility that comes with that kind of a degree so I could do the very best job I could in defending the rights of Native nations.
I was the lone Native student and there were no Native faculty. I faced an entire schedule of classes that did not assign even one reading or case about Native peoples or by a Native scholar. Given that Native nations are explicitly mentioned in the US Constitution, and I was taking constitutional law, this was deeply unsettling. To make matters worse, I encountered resounding ignorance from both my classmates and professors about Indian Country that was like nothing I had ever experienced before. This unfamiliarity manifested in benign confusion about what I meant when I said I wanted to study Indian law (“Do you mean in India?”), to offensive interrogations about my background and Native peoples (“Well you don’t look Native,” “Why don’t Native Americans leave reservations if there is so much poverty?”, “Do Indians still really exist, especially on the East Coast?”).
And so I channeled my frustration into raising awareness about the need for all attorneys to learn about Indian law and Native issues. Through the Native American Law Students Association, I helped bring nearly forty of Indian Country’s most renowned leaders to campus. One of these events even attracted an audience of 300 people to learn about how current criminal jurisdiction laws have caused violence against Native women! I also helped start two clinic projects in which law students conducted legal work for a tribe in Montana and the National Congress of American Indians. By my third year, I was no longer the lone Native student, but one of five. And in fall 2017, after quite an uphill battle with the administration, Yale Law School hired its first-ever Native faculty member to teach a class on Native Peacemaking. Professor Watts was only hired on as a visiting professor, but at least we got the door open toward making further progress.
I think these types of inroads are critical. Law students are some of the nation’s future leaders and, for better or worse, will likely make decisions affecting tribal communities during their careers. Hundreds of years of harmful Indian law has been borne out of ignorance about Native peoples, our cultures, and our governments. I hope that educating my classmates and professors about Indian Country will help reverse this in some small way – a goal that I could have not worked toward without the American Indian College Fund’s support.
The Native students who were just starting when I was in my third year are happily graduating this year – but sadly, with them will go much of the progress we made in bringing Indian law to Yale. No new Native students were admitted in the past two years, and without institutionalized support for Indian law initiatives from the administration and faculty, our clinic projects will not continue next year, and there are no plans to invite Professor Watts back to teach in the near future. The sole Native student who will be entering the law school next year – and thankfully there is at least one – will be back to where I was, the only Native student in the entire school, with no support system.
Getting through college, law school, or any institution of higher education is hard enough without the additional obstacle of having your very existence and presence on campus questioned. I’m so glad the American Indian College Fund is seizing this opportunity to drive meaningful change, and I sincerely hope you’ll join us in taking action.
“As a Native American, I often experience both intentional and unintentional bias. For example, I have been asked for my student ID at the library late at night while other students have not. Or I have to think about whether I should wear a hoodie at night when I’m on my school campus, which is in the middle of an affluent neighborhood in Denver. I think about these things because American Indians and Alaska Natives are killed in police encounters at a higher rate than any other racial or ethnic group. I always carry my student ID and my driver’s license to prove I belong in my school’s neighborhood and also to let people know I’m a law student, so they know I’m aware of my rights. This scares me, especially because many people think that an educated American Indian is a dangerous American Indian.”
“I am the only Native at UCLA film school. Oftentimes I write about what it means to be a Native and am met with confusion, misunderstanding, and no one ever knows quite what to do with me because of it. At the root of this issue is a lack of awareness and knowledge, and with even a simple touch of prejudice, this can quickly turn to fear.”
“The entire time I was at a mainstream institution, I was made to feel like I didn’t belong. I always had a sense that I had to prove myself. I noticed that when I went to the learning center for help, I was talked down to when trying to understand a difficult concept. A lot of Native Americans already deal with impostor syndrome, so when you couple that with feeling unwelcome, it makes it difficult to ask for help.”
“I decided to start up a Native American organization at school before I graduated. I felt proud to have worked to help Native American students, especially those that are local, feel supported and acknowledged in a community in which we are often overlooked and unrecognized.”
“When I went to the University of Montana (UM) for graduate school, I will admit, I was intimidated being one of the few minority students in the department. It’s scary being the only minority in a classroom; it feels like you have more pressure and discernment from your peers. But I didn’t want that to keep me from reaching my goals. I was proud to receive my department’s graduate teaching assistantships both years I attended UM. It’s important to have American Indian representation in the classroom because it will enhance the experience of any Native and minority undergraduate. Seeing a minority graduate student shows students there is an avenue open for them to succeed past their bachelor’s degree.”
My name is Len. And I’m excited to be blazing a new trail for my people.
But let me back up for just a moment. After completing my doctorate, my first job was with the Department of Energy in the Office of Indian Energy. It was incredibly fulfilling to support almost 300 tribes as they actualized their vision of what they wanted their future to be.
I began thinking differently about what I want my future to be. I reached back to the beginning and thought about my very first classroom. And it’s not kindergarten, as you might suspect. My first classroom was the outdoors. As a child, I spent countless hours outside playing with my friends, laughing at family events, and listening to stories from my elders. It taught me who I was and what I could do. It’s where I made my first connections outside of my family. And it’s where I formed my identity. I knew my place in the world and saw the richness and beauty of what the world offered me.
And more than anything, I came to realize that I want everyone to have these experiences. Everything I learned, experienced, and accomplished had prepared me to do different work – I was meant to help protect the many and beautiful sacred places of my people by inviting everyone to a shared experience.
The purpose of NativesOutdoors is to tell stories through adventures. Giving Native people the opportunity to share knowledge of the land we hike on, rivers we swim in, and mountains we climb is how we make Native history and culture accessible to everyone. We are creating a shared space that allows everyone to have a deeper connection with the land, helping us to protect and preserve it for generations to come.
My education has made this possible. The three letters (PhD) at the end of my name has opened doors for me that aren’t often open for Native people. We’re working with companies to more fully develop diversity and inclusion policies. We’re building more connections between tribes and the outdoor industry to create opportunities for Native students to intern in the outdoor industry. We’re looking at how this industry can incorporate cultural aspects from our Native lands into the work they do.
And every day, I’m looking at who I’m cultivating behind me.
It’s important that this trail is being blazed, but there will need to be a lot of people who keep it going. That’s where continued support for the College Fund is important – ensuring that folks 20 years behind me have the same opportunities and even more opportunities than I have now.