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Dina Horwedel, Director of Public Education, American Indian College Fund

Colleen R. Billiot, Public Education Coordinator, American Indian College Fund

American Indian College Fund Announces 2023-24 Indigenous Visionaries Cohort

Ten Native Women Faculty and Staff Supported in Personal and Professional Advancement

October 10, 2023, Denver, Colo.— The Indigenous Visionaries: Women’s Leadership Program (Indigenous Visionaries) at the American Indian College Fund (College Fund) supports the empowerment and success of Native women faculty and staff at tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) through a ten-month fellowship. Participating fellows receive a $4,000 stipend and place-based and experiential professional and personal development through guided training and cultural learning from College Fund staff and a broad network of Native women leaders.

This program seeks to address and dismantle systemic barriers facing Native women by providing the tools, opportunities, and a network to support and strengthen the growth of our fellows, in turn strengthening families, TCUs, and tribal communities. This program is designed to elevate and increase the visibility of Native women by offering strategic opportunities that illuminate a path towards personal, educational, and professional advancement.

The 2023-24 ten College Fund Indigenous Visionaries Fellows include:

Mariah Wanic (Bay Mills Indian Community), a graduate of Bay Mills Community College (BMCC) and the director of its charter schools’ office. She is enrolled in a doctoral program in education leadership at Central Michigan University and hopes earning her Ph.D. will allow her to become a better leader in her community and an expert in her field. Mariah recently celebrated her twenty-year anniversary working for BMCC. She also enjoys attending craft workshops offered by her tribal community and hopes to learn more of the Ojibwe language.

Orinda Goddard (Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation) attended Northwest Indian College and now works as an instructor at the college’s Tribal Vocational Rehabilitation Institute. She hopes to run for office in her state, with a first step as running for a voluntary position on the school board. She is inspired by the legacy of her grandfather and wants to uplift Native voices to help her people.

Lisa Brooks (Oglala Sioux Tribe) is an associate professor in the business department at Oglala Lakota College. She hopes to make a positive impact in her community through persistent leadership in education. Her personal passion is being a Lakota language warrior who helps with language revitalization efforts through teaching, content creation, and networking.

Linette Factor (Muscogee [Creek]) is a graduate of the College of the Muscogee Nation and has worked for the college since 2013. As the Director of Business Affairs, she has served on several committees and enjoys volunteering in her community.

Ann Wadsworth (Spirit Lake Tribe) graduated from Cankdeska Cikana Community College (CCCC) and now serves as the Executive Assistant to President, Dr. Cynthia Lindquist. Ann hopes to obtain her master’s degree in leadership to better help her community, possibly as a tribal leader. Her grandchildren motivate her to be their role model.

Heather Burshia (Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes) is Project Director for a Native youth community project grant at Fort Peck Community College. She hopes that the grant will positively impact the lives of students on the reservation over the next five years. Professionally, Heather would like to earn a master’s degree in public health and become a certified health educator.

Deborah Taffa (Quechan Nation and Laguna Pueblo) is the Director of the Master’s in Fine Arts program in Creative Writing at the Institute of the American Indian Arts. Her memoir, Whiskey Tender, won the Santa Fe Writer’s Project Prize in December 2019 and will be published by Harper Collins Harper in 2024. Deborah’s primary goal is to change the literary landscape of America by helping other Native writers get published.

Mechelle Crazy Thunder (Oglala Sioux/Three Affiliated Tribes) has attended both United Tribes Technical College and Oglala Lakota College and participates in a collaborative teacher education program with Sinte Gleska University. She is an academic support counselor at Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute who aspires to become an Indigenous education change-maker. Her goal is to assist students in their journey and ensure their time attending a tribal college is a positive and loving experience. She is currently enrolled in the University of New Mexico’s Ph.D./Native American Leadership in Education program and will be the first member of her family to obtain a doctoral degree.

Danielle Carley (Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa) is an alumna and current Associate Dean of Students and Director of the Work-Based Learning Program at Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe University (LCOOU). Her work focuses on improving LCOOU career services and creating a K-16 tribal school system on the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation.

Jessica Brunelle (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa) graduated from United Tribes Technical College and now works there as a business instructor-advisor. She feels that to have a career as rewarding as teaching and work at an institution that values her as UTTC does is a blessing. Jessica wants to complete her master’s degree in business administration and grow in her leadership at UTTC.

Cheryl Crazy Bull, President and CEO of the American Indian College Fund, said, “Indigenous societies hold the knowledge and contributions of women in the highest regard. Our Indigenous Visionaries program recognizes that education is a path to restoring knowledge and reclaiming the role of women as culture bearers and change agents. We are honored to work with these amazing members of our tribal communities.”

About the American Indian College Fund The American Indian College Fund has been the nation’s largest charity supporting Native higher education for 34 years. The College Fund believes “Education is the answer” and provided $17.4 million in scholarships and other direct student support to American Indian students in 2022-23. Since its founding in 1989 the College Fund has provided more than $319 million in scholarships, programs, community, and tribal college support. The College Fund also supports a variety of academic and support programs at the nation’s 35 accredited tribal colleges and universities, which are located on or near Indian reservations, ensuring students have the tools to graduate and succeed in their careers. The College Fund consistently receives top ratings from independent charity evaluators and is one of the nation’s top 100 charities named to the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance. For more information about the American Indian College Fund, please visit

Journalists— The American Indian College Fund does not use the acronym AICF. On second reference, please use the College Fund.


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