First Native American female dean and prominent Indian law trailblazer to teach at ASU Law


August 16, 2019

The Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University is honored to welcome Stacy L. Leeds as the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Distinguished Visiting Indian Law Professor. Leeds is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and carved her place in history when she was named the dean of the University of Arkansas School of Law in 2011, becoming the first Native American woman to be appointed to such position. Currently, she is the vice chancellor for economic development, dean emeritus and a professor at the University of Arkansas, and she will teach federal Indian law this fall as part of ASU Law’s Indian Legal Program.

“We are very honored to have Vice Chancellor Stacy Leeds as the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Distinguished Visiting Indian Law Professor,” said Patty Ferguson-Bohnee, professor and faculty director for ASU Law’s Indian Legal Program and director of the Indian Legal Clinic. “We believe she will be a great addition to our team this fall and a wonderful resource for our students. From the Indian Child Welfare Act to opioid litigation to tribal agriculture, she has combined scholarship and practice to advance and defend Indian rights.” photo of Stacy Leeds at NALSA Moot Court Finals Stacy Leeds, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community distinguished visiting Indian law professor with Judge William Canby Jr. (at left) and Larry Roberts, professor of practice at ASU Law at the NALSA Moot Court Finals. Download Full Image

Leeds has a passion and dedication to Indian law, and a determination to help inform Indian law policy and the next generation of lawyers.

However, she did not always know this would be her path. As a child she grew up in Muskogee, Oklahoma, and went on to become an all-state basketball player for Muskogee High School. She then enrolled at Washington University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree while also participating as a student athlete playing basketball and tennis.

“I knew I wanted to go to law school when a lightbulb moment occurred during my junior year of my undergraduate studies,” Leeds said. “I took a grad school course in social work where the final project involved mock testimony before Congress on Indian child welfare issues. I was hooked by the process, the research and the oral advocacy.”

She obtained two law degrees — a Master of Laws degree from the University of Wisconsin and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Tulsa — and later obtained an MBA while a professor at the University of Kansas.

Currently, she divides her time between downtown Fayetteville near the University of Arkansas campus and Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the capital of the Cherokee Nation. With her visiting professorship at ASU Law, she will travel to its Downtown Phoenix campus throughout the fall semester.

“ASU Law is at the top of the Indian law field, and it’s an honor to be a part of the program. It is also very meaningful that the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community continues to invest in law students by providing new opportunities and access to new mentors,” Leeds said.

ASU Law’s Indian Legal Program was established in 1988 and, through its connections to each of Arizona’s federally recognized 22 tribes, is home to one of the highest concentrations of Native American students and Indian law students in the nation. Leeds joins a team of other nationally recognized faculty who are leading scholars in their fields.

photo of Stacy Leeds

Stacy L. Leeds, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Distinguished Visiting Indian Law Professor at ASU Law.

Leeds has been connected to ASU Law for many years. Several of the students she has taught in prelaw programs or otherwise mentored have started their careers at ASU Law. Leeds also delivered the keynote at ASU Law’s William C. Canby Jr. Lecture Series in 2013, and she served as a championship-round judge at the National Native American Law Student Association (NNALSA) Moot Court Competition when ASU Law hosted the annual event in 2018.

“I look forward to getting to know the students and actively participating in their professional development,” Leeds said. “I know that I will also enjoy the full scale of the Indian Law program, which will include interaction with tribes and the Indian law bar in the region.”

Leeds has also made a significant impact in the Native legal community. Previously, she has served as a justice for the Cherokee Nation’s Supreme Court as the first woman and youngest person to be appointed. Leeds also served as a judge for six other Native nations, as a member of the Board of Directors of the National American Indian Court Judges Association, and as chair of the American Bar Association Judicial Division’s Tribal Courts Council.

“I have had the greatest professional privilege anyone could ever hope for: repeatedly being in jobs where I felt like I was in exactly the right place at the right time. When that type of alignment occurs, that’s the point of maximum impact,” Leeds said. “I have been fortunate to experience that many times, not limited to, but certainly including my time as a law school dean and as justice on the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court.”

When further reflecting on her time as the first female Native American law dean, she is proud and encouraged to see additional women ascending to higher roles in academia.

“It was truly an honor with big responsibility, and I am so thrilled that 'only' Native woman has now been amended to 'first' Native woman with the recent appointment of my colleague Dean Elizabeth Kronk at the University of Utah. There will be many to follow and I will celebrate them all. I am keenly aware that my opportunities have been possible because other people opened doors for me and took chances on me,” Leeds said.

Opportunities are exactly what she hopes future law students take advantage of during their time in law school. Her advice is simple: keep an open mind and seize every opportunity as to where your career may take you.

“Studying law will give you immeasurable skills that can translate across so many endeavors. If you embrace that, you will never be bored,” Leeds said.

To fellow Native women studying law, she notes that most Native law students are majority women and increasingly so.

“It will take a few more years for that trend to fundamentally change the landscape of Indian country, but soon most of the Native lawyers will be women in the legal profession and by consequence, many more women will be tribal leaders,” Leeds said. “My advice for Native women is this: Get ready— it’s going to be a wild ride. You can’t always control the timing of your opportunities, but you can control how well-prepared you’ll be.”

Nicole Almond Anderson

Director of Communications, Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law

480-727-6990

Students at ASU Cronkite School dominate competition in National Native Media Awards


July 25, 2019

Journalism students at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication took home seven first-place awards during the 2019 National Native Media Awards, the most of any school in the nation.

The Native American Journalists Association announced that students at ASU won a total of 17 awards across radio, television, writing and online news categories for their in-depth coverage of issues important to Native American communities. student in front of broadcast camera in newsroom Recent Cronkite School alumna Lillian Donahue took home two awards during the 2019 National Native Media Awards. Download Full Image

“The Cronkite School is dedicated to increasing both the quantity and quality of Native American news coverage to better serve Native communities regionally and nationally,” Cronkite Assistant Dean Rebecca Blatt said. “These awards are a testament to the outstanding work our students are producing and the Cronkite School’s increased efforts to cover tribes and Native people across the Americas.”

Earlier this year, Indian Country Today, a national news organization devoted to the coverage of Native American issues and communities, moved its newsroom from Washington, D.C., to the Cronkite School. The expansion of the digital media outlet includes the first-ever national television news program by and about Native Americans. 

Cronkite News, the student-produced and faculty-led news organization of Arizona PBS, has strengthened its coverage of indigenous communities. The media outlet took home 16 NAJA awards, including six first-place honors. 

Recent Cronkite School alumna Lillian Donahue took home the top award in the TV – Best Feature Story and Print/Online – Best Feature Photo categories. Her Cronkite News story, “Supai village residents are fearful for their future,” took an in-depth look at uranium mining in the Grand Canyon and its devastating impact on members of the Havasupai Tribe. 

The Carnegie-Knight News21 program, a national multi-university reporting initiative headquartered at the Cronkite School, also tied for first place in the Print/Online – Best Feature Story category.

ASU’s Turning Points Magazine received two honors for stories written by Cronkite alumna Taylor Notah. Notah won first place in the Print/Online – Best Feature Story category for her story, “Showdown on the Rez,” which highlighted the ASU-Baylor women’s basketball game held in Fort Defiance, Arizona.

The winners will be recognized during the National Native Media Conference in Prior Lake, Minnesota, on Sept. 18. 

Director of communications, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and Arizona PBS

 
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Sparking the indigenous imagination

July 12, 2019

ASU offers summer pilot program to Native American high schoolers living in the Valley

Arizona State University history alumnus Kino Reed regularly teaches O’odham cultural studies and social studies at Salt River High School near Scottsdale, Arizona. But this last week he was back at his alma mater, leading American Indian high schoolers from across the Valley in collaborative design, nation-building and futurism activities in a project called “Engineering the Homeland in 3001.”     

"One of my goals was to start helping students to understand that Native knowledge is scientific," said ReedReed is a member of the Gila River Indian Community, Tohono O'odham and Shosone tribes. about his approach. "And at the same time help them understand the engineering field more and then make their own connections between the two."

Reed is one of several instructors and peer mentors involved in the Indigenous Imagination Initiative. The one-week, nonresidential summer program piloted at the ASU Tempe campus July 8–12 engaged youth in projects that asked them to imagine futures for themselves and their nations and connected them to the creativity and inspiration of indigenous people.

The initiative took almost a year to develop, said Jeanne Hanrahan, director of community outreach at ASU’s University College. She said a collaborative effort by ASU colleagues from K–12 outreach in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the Department of English RED INK Indigenous Initiative along with donor support not only made the program a reality for the 27 participants, but allowed them to attend at no cost.

“The program offered students a choice between focusing on an engineering track and a graphic novel track,” Hanrahan continued. “The cohorts shared a common foundation of presentations on storytelling and indigenous futurism then branched out to enjoy a range of workshops to support their projects. We engaged ASU’s indigenous community, including alumni, faculty, staff and students as well as community members to make this happen.”

The jam-packed week included team-building activities, painting, ideation and brainstorming sessions, talking circles, engineering design challenges, 3D printing workshops and sessions on how to craft a graphic novel.

The engineering cohort was a nice fit for 17-year-old Koi Quiver.

“I have a very mathematic brain, and I like putting stuff together,” said Quiver, who will be a senior at Buckeye Union High School next month. “It incorporates engineering and indigenous stories. I want to learn how to mash those two subjects together.”

Jaycee Nez, one of three peer mentors involved in the initiative, said Quiver’s curiosity and skill set warmed her heart.

“I like to see people who look like me and think like me, doing the same things,” said Nez, a chemical engineering major at ASU. “I want to see more Native Americans pursuing careers in engineering. ASU will inspire and guide them towards a better future."

The graphic novel track appealed greatly to 16-year-old Alana Lopez.

“I love to draw, but I don’t know how to tell stories,” said Lopez, who will be a senior at ASU Preparatory Academy, a charter school in downtown Phoenix. “I’m here to learn how to tell stories and express my feelings.”

Helping in that endeavor was Tyson Frank Powless, an ASU art major, commercial artist and an art editor for “RED INK: An International Journal of Indigenous Literature, Arts and Humanities.”

“Native youth have to feel safe in a setting away from home and need to relate to someone like me,” said Powless, who is Navajo, Oneida and Iroquois. “We want to get them into a comfort zone and let them know they have the freedom to create whatever they wish.”

Powless said the relationship has also been a two-way street.

“Having them approach me and saying, ‘We want your skills’ has been a blessing to me,” he said. “This is a group of students who will be putting art in future books, and that’s heavy. These kids have talent.”

That was evident to Marlena Candace Robbins, a professional artist who graduated from ASU with a master’s degree in American Indian Studies. Robbins’ workshop, “Art as a Spiritual Expression and Indigenous Well Being,” hit upon several themes, including ancestry and future generations.

“I talked about the next seven generations and what do we want for our great-great-great-greatgrandkids. How do we want them to live? What kind of communities do we want to build and leave behind for others?” said Robbins, who is Navajo.

Robbins’ teachings resonated with 16-year-old Nakeisha Nockideneh, who painted a desolate landscape featuring a Native American tipi.

“This painting reminds me of my background and encourages me to be more in touch with my culture,” said Nockideneh, who will be a senior this year at Mesa’s Westwood High School. "I’m now inspired to help change and improve things in my community."

Top photo: Salt River High School teacher Kino Reed introduces a project on designing and building a residential housing model in an engineering class, part of the Indigenous Imagination Initiative, on the Tempe campus on July 9, 2019. The goal was to build either a traditional or modern structure with the interior eight degrees cooler than the exterior. The one-week summer program for American Indian high schoolers utilizes cultural knowledge to develop creativity and identity. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Fighting generational trauma through education


July 8, 2019

For Arizona State University alumna Laura Medina, home started out as a shaky concept.

She was born in New Mexico and grew up on the Phoenix area’s Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, but she has roots in Michigan.  Laura Medina graduated with a master's degree in indigenous rights and social justice from the American Indian Studies program in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Laura Medina graduated with a master's degree in indigenous rights and social justice from the American Indian Studies program in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Download Full Image

Her mother is an Ojibwe tribal member from Michigan's Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians who was taken to Pennsylvania as a child, one of the thousands of Native Americans removed from their homelands and placed with nonindigenous parents in other states. After years of abuse allegations and concerns of cultural loss, the Indian Child Welfare Act brought a legal end to these forced relocations in 1978. 

American Indian Studies program alumna Laura Medina

Medina's mother moved to New Mexico for school when she was 17 and eventually started a family of her own. But Medina said those early experiences continued to affect her.  

“I think the way my mom was treated and the trauma of leaving home, all of that impacted her life and contributed to a lot of my own anxiety and social issues growing up,” she said. “Now I have a 2-year-old son, and I don't want him to inherit that same trauma.”

Medina’s determination drove her to turn an academic eye to the historical events that shaped her own life. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in American Indian studies from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 2011 and a master’s degree in indigenous rights and social justice from the same program in 2018. She is the first in her family to obtain an advanced degree.

She said both tracks have helped her make sense of her experiences and provided a springboard to contribute research where gaps still remain.  

"I am an Ojibwe member of a Grand Traverse band in Michigan but have never actually lived there,” she said. “When I came to ASU, I began learning about all the ways colonization and generational trauma have played a role in that; my hope is that by sharing and developing that knowledge, my younger siblings and my son can be the ones that continue to build the foundation for new generations.”

Now working as a student success and retention coordinator for the American Indian Student Support Services(AISSS) network, she’s helping other Native American students navigate the trials of higher education she once faced herself.

Medina answered a few questions about her time at ASU, her research and the impact she hopes to make in the lives of new students.

Question: What made your path in graduate school unique? 

Answer: I did not complete my graduate studies in the two-year time span that is typical, and part of that was because I decided to take a break from academics to experience activism from the ground. I occupied Oak FlatLocated in the Tonto National Forest, Oak Flat is a site held sacred to Native Americans from the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation that has been a flashpoint for indigenous and environmental movements rallying against years of copper mining attempts in the area. for six months and went to protest at Standing RockIn 2016, thousands of protesters descended upon the Standing Rock Indian Reservation to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline. when I was pregnant with my son. Some of that was material I wasn’t finding in books. My going out and experiencing it for myself was the first step in my effort to help change that.

Q: What did your research focus on and why?

A: My thesis looks specifically at Canada’s Idle No More movement and how scholars influence social change. This was a movement that began in 2012 against a series of laws that stood to drastically alter the First Nations’ sovereignty. I was looking at how scholars, professors or knowledge-seekers, in general, provide the fuel for indigenous resistance and change.

The movement began during my first semester within the American Indian studies graduate program. A lot of things were happening to me at home at the time. My mom had kicked me out and I was homeless, shuttling between campus and staying with people at the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation. I think there is always this struggle of how we identify ourselves as indigenous people, especially in relation to land.

I was attracted to the Idle No More movement because many of my own Ojibwe people participated. It was a chance for me to connect back to my people at a time I really needed that.  

Q: What made you decide to start working as a staff member with AISSS after graduating last fall?

A: There are a lot of struggles Native students face. One way we can help is by creating a space for indigenous people that's unique to us and where people can feel at home. 

It took some time for me to feel like I was at home here. During my undergraduate years, I found it really hard to find a community or to feel at home. It wasn’t until my graduate studies that I really found that. I want to help make this program bigger and better so that students know they have a place to go. 

Q: What advice do you have for future students or what do you wish you’d known before coming to The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences?

A: I wish I knew how powerful being a student here can be. The College and the whole university has resources that your tuition is ultimately paying for, so it’s important to take advantage of that. 

Native American students can be humble and quiet, so it’s sometimes less likely they end up reaching out to staff. My advice is to find a person who can help you build upon and share your ideas, and to not be afraid to ask for help. I was able to find that with Laura Gonzales-Macias, and others at AISSS, and with the Native community at large. I think it’s important to continue creating that space and representation as a staff member. 

Q: How would you describe your Sun Devil story?

A: I was part of the first cohort of graduate students in the American Indian Studies program, so I sometimes felt like I was coming in at a time of transition. I wasn't entering into something with a strong legacy, but on the other hand, it made me feel like I had to be the one to help create it. By building the foundation, we’re making space for others to come into something more solid.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish in 10 years?

A: I am considering a PhD track in sociology, and eventually, I’d like to return to Michigan to give back there. My goal is to learn my language and be fluent in Ojibwe to continue that connection.

One thing I find myself asking is what the world looks like through the lens of an Ojibwe woman. Knowledge of the land is such a powerful force in that sense. Part of my journey is about returning to my people in Michigan and putting what I’ve learned here toward helping my community and being an educator.

I would also like my son to grow up with that same understanding of his own land. He comes from the Navajo mountain area here in Arizona on his father’s side, and my father’s tribal land base is in New Mexico. Having my family be connected to all of those spaces is an important part for me because they all contribute to our understanding of who we are. 

Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

480-965-5870

Native American students explore advanced degree horizons at Graduate Pathways conference


June 14, 2019

As a transgender woman and first-generation student from the Navajo community of Teec Nos Pos in northeastern Arizona, Arizona State University alumna Trudie Jackson is used to forging her own way.

Today, she holds concurrent bachelor’s degrees in American Indian studies from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and public service and public policy from the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, and a master’s degree in tribal leadership and governance from The College’s American Indian studies program. But the road hasn’t been easy. Trudie Jackson graduated with a master's degree in tribal leadership and governance from The College's American Indian studies program.   Trudie Jackson graduated with a master's degree in tribal leadership and governance from The College's American Indian studies program. Download Full Image

Trudie Jackson, an alumna of The College's American Indian Studies program's master's degree track.Trudie Jackson, an alumna of The College's American Indian Studies program's master's degree track.

“Native students balance being in a Western educational institution and coming from a tribal community,” she said. “Part of going to school is just learning sometimes you had to make sacrifices — you may not be able to engage in a ceremonial event back in your community, for example, because you have a paper due.”

Learning to navigate those challenges is what led her to attend Graduate Pathways ahead of her master’s degree track a few years ago. Organized by American Indian Student Support Services (AISSS), the biennial conference helps Native American undergraduates and alumni learn more about advanced degrees and application processes.

Now pursuing a doctorate at the University of New Mexico, Jackson returned to campus this month to share her experiences with a new generation of postsecondary-bound indigenous students at the 2019 Graduate Pathways.

After graduating with a master's degree in tribal leadership and governance from The College's American Indian studies program, Trudie Jackson wants to help others do the same.

Alumna Trudie Jackson speaks to a room of fellow Native American students considering graduate paths.

“You may encounter professors who have never had a Native student, but that’s actually where you have the chance to share your knowledge,” Jackson said, speaking to a crowd of around 50 students, alumni and faculty mentors at the conference. “I believe one way I contribute to academia is through my own experience as an American Indian transgender woman; that perspective is not always reflected in the scholarship we read, and that’s what inspires me to keep going.”


Paving the way

According to AISSS Acting Director Laura Gonzales-Macias, more than 3,000 Native American students were enrolled at ASU in 2018, many of whom are in The College’s 23 schools and departments. Over 500 are working toward doctorates or master’s degrees.

She said the number is continuing to grow and already significant, particularly by national standards — Native Americans make up less than 1% of U.S. college students and are represented even less in graduate programs.

Several initiatives aim to bring more young people into the fold and support them once they arrive, but fewer exist at the graduate level.

Graduate Pathways was designed to bridge the gap.

“There are many challenges involved in being a Native American student, one of them being that often you are the only one in the course,” said Gonzales-Macias, who is also an instructor in The College's American Indian Studies program. “I think it is particularly important at the graduate level for these students to hear what the climate is like for indigenous students and how they can continue navigating such a large institution.”

The two-day training includes resume and personal statement workshops and one-on-one mentorship sessions with faculty from the degree programs students are interested in. Perhaps most importantly, Gonzales-Macias hopes participants walk away feeling like they’re not alone. It is a sentiment she remembers being a vital step of her own psychology graduate track at The College, in 1992.

“Coming to ASU back then, it was not as diverse a place as it is today,” she said. “I was far from home and family, a first-generation student and by then, continuing onto my doctorate — connecting with fellow Native graduates was my saving grace.”


Lasting connections

Now in its fifth year, Gonzales-Macias says the program comes full circle when alumni like Jackson return to give today’s prospective graduate students a unique insight into what’s next.

“Bringing back former participants lets new students see that someone else has been in their shoes,” she said.

That was the case for Rodney Aguilla, a Tohono O’odham tribal member who came to Graduate Pathways to learn more about advanced programs in fields spanning American Indian studies, law or teaching.

Rodney Aguilla, a senior in The College's American Indian Studies program, came to Graduate Pathways to learn more about advanced degree options.

Rodney Aguilla, a senior in The College's American Indian Studies program, came to Graduate Pathways to learn more about advanced degree options.

Growing up in Three Points, Arizona, southwest of Tucson, Aguilla saw getting an education as a way to give back to the sister who raised him.

“My sister always told us that education is the key to the world,” he said. “She literally saw me go from dropping out of high school, to getting my GED, and finally, to coming here — she did a lot to help push that forward.”

He transferred to ASU from Tohono O’odham Community College last May to pursue a bachelor’s degree in American Indian studies and a minor in history, both from The College.

He said being homesick and away from family made coming to ASU difficult at first. Hearing from current graduate students at the conference made him feel like he was on the right track.

“I think as Native students, we all kind of have that extra weight on our shoulders to come back and do something for our tribe,” he said. “Meeting other students and learning from their experiences really helped, I hope to one day be here too, putting on these programs for others who come after me.”



Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

480-965-5870

 
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ASU alumnus and ASU Gammage take on the 2019 Tony Awards

June 6, 2019

Native American designer created a unique gown for high profile Broadway red carpet

Glitz, glam and a rich sense of community will be represented on stage at this year’s 73rd annual Tony Awards in New York City on Sunday, June 9.

And thanks to two members of the ASU family, those qualities also will be on the red carpet.

Colleen Jennings-Roggensack — the executive director of ASU Gammage, ASU's vice president for cultural affairs and a Tony Awards voter since 1995 — will attend the red carpet wearing a custom-made gown created by ASU alumnus Loren Aragon.

Aragon is the designer and artist for ACONAV, a Native American-owned and -operated couture fashion brand based in Phoenix. He has dedicated his brand to both the empowerment of women and representation of Native people.

Loren Aragon

“We’re a really different realm of fashion and we bring a lot of different things to the table as far as aesthetic,” he said. It is all culturally fueled.” 

Aragon graduated from ASU with a degree in mechanical engineering in 2004.

His previous designs have been featured at Disneyworld for its 2018 exhibit, "Creating Traditions: Innovation and Change in Native American Art," and at Phoenix Fashion Week. 

Aragon was asked to design a custom dress for Jennings-Roggensack, Arizona’s sole Tony Awards voter. 

“Being able to represent Native fashion and our culture, the Acoma Pueblo, on this type of platform is something that is unbelievable,” Aragon said. 

The color of the dress, a vibrant red, is an homage to ancestry and an awareness of the missing and murdered Indigenous women movement, according to Aragon. The geometric shapes on the dress represent the pottery art culture of the Acoma Pueblo. 

“I want viewers to see that Native fashion is definitely thriving and making its mark in the greater fashion industry, Aragon said. 

Jennings-Roggensack said she is absolutely thrilled to be representing Aragon’s work and message on the red carpet in New York City. 

“When I looked at Loren Aragon’s work I thought, ‘This is it,” she said. I want all of the communities all over the world to see it.” 

Jennings-Roggensack said she could not have asked for a designer who better represents not only ASU’s goal of innovation, but someone who also represents his culture and heritage so deeply. 

“I feel like I’m wearing something that is bigger than I am, she said.

Top article: Colleen Jennings-Roggensack and Loren Aragon on the ASU Gammage stage for the final dress fitting. Photo courtesy ASU Gammage

Marketing assistant , ASU Gammage

 
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ASU student veteran to attend 75th anniversary of D-Day

June 4, 2019

David Tepper documents the lives of Native Americans and veterans

It’s June 6, 1944.

Charles Norman Shay, an American Army medic and a Penobscot Indian, is among the first wave of soldiers to storm Omaha Beach in Normandy, France. German steel falls like sleet across the sand. He’s carrying a bazooka and heavy equipment. His clothes and boots are waterlogged.

"It was very difficult to make any headway," he said years after the battle. "Any headway you made was very slow. I eventually was able to get into water that only went up to my ankles … the first thing I did was head for one of the barriers that the Germans had constructed."

Shay turned to help wounded comrades struggling in the surf. He pulled one after another out of the ocean while German machine guns blazed into masses of men. His courage that day earned him a Silver Star for heroism in ground combat. Shay was one of about 175 Native Americans who fought on Omaha Beach that day. About 500 American and Canadian natives took part in the epic invasion of Fortress EuropeA propaganda term used during WWII to denote the Nazi-occupied portion of continental Europe..

Seventy-five years after D-Day, Shay will return to Omaha Beach to be recognized for his bravery and receive a Freedom Medal from French president Emmanuel Macron.

Arizona State University engineering student David Tepper will travel to France to document the historical occasion as well as continue his work photographing Native American veterans.

Tepper, a 55-year-old Navy veteran who is majoring in information technology, is also a professional photographer. He began taking pictures of Native Americans about 15 years ago and has traveled to more than 60 reservations to document their lives. 

ASU Now caught up with Tepper on the eve of his departure to discuss his life, work and what he’ll be doing on the 75th anniversary of D-Day. 

Grey haired man

Charles Norman Shay

Question: Why and how long have you been documenting Native Americans, particularly veterans?

Answer: I’ve been documenting Native Americans and Native American veterans for about 15 years but I feel like I’ve been preparing for it all my life.

I was born and raised in Rome, Italy. I was born near the Jewish ghettos of WWII. During WWII, 50,000 people lived in 1 square mile. They could leave during the day to work, but had to return by nightfall. That was a form of reservation — at least it was to me. When I was young, spaghetti Westerns movies were in vogue. I watched them all. I rooted for any Native American that came across the screen. Fast forward a number of years. I participated in a photography workshop in and around the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. There were a few photographers from Italy and I became their translator. During that trip, we met some Native Americans and they had an enormous impact on me. In particular, one gentleman was taken as a child, sent to Philadelphia to attend a Catholic school. He was so gentle, and not bitter at all. Even though he never went to college, he remains one of the most well-read people I’ve ever met. It was his dignity that impressed me most. So, I kept returning to Pine Ridge, meeting more people, going to various ceremonies, sweat lodges and various cultural events.

As a veteran, the word spread that I am photographer that honors Native American veterans. I give them prints of any images we make. Through word of mouth I came to meet and photograph a number of the (Navajo) Code Talkers (and) WWII, Korean War, Vietnam and other veterans.

Q: I would assume you have had to build a level of trust over time given that what you do is such an intimate act?

A: I have been fortunate enough in my work. People respond to my work, and to my intentions. I explore, I don’t exploit. My intentions are quite simple. I make images with people that they are proud of. I sit with them, get to know them. I don’t set up any equipment such as backdrops, strobes and cameras until we know each other. Sometimes I cook for them, sometimes I bring a gift. It is impolite to ask someone to make their picture — or any favor for that matter — without giving something in return. Making a portrait is a collaborative effort. They have to trust me in order to reveal themselves to me and to the camera. Only then is a proper portrait made.

I also want to point out that I don’t use the words "shoot," "capture" or "take." Words are important, and those verbs are associated with guns. I am not making a statement against guns, just that photographers ought to have their own vocabulary.

David Tepper

ASU engineering student David Tepper (upper right) with Umoho tribe members Rudi Mitchell, Happy Keen and Octa Keen. Courtesy of David Tepper

Q: You have visited approximately 60 reservations over the years. What have you seen and what have you learned on these visits?

A: What a question. I have seen many things. The good, the bad and the ugly. I have seen dignity, kindness, charity, empathy and a wonderful sense of humor. I have seen drunkenness, loss of hope. I have seen gangs, abject poverty. Through all this, I have seen the resiliency of spirit. The pride in one’s own culture/heritage. I have seen that indigenous people have a sense of home. That is something that resonates with me, as I’ve never felt a sense of home as some of these friends I’ve met. I am honored to have made lifelong friends with people I’ve met on reservations. There are spiritual leaders that I admire very much. I have been to a number of ceremonies that I would never photograph. I have been to a number of sweat lodge ceremonies. They are wonderful. I have even been to a sweat with a Catholic priest. He knew all the songs and participated completely. It was a powerful experience.

I once had a video conference with a professor. He wore a “mock” baseball jersey that made fun of the Cleveland Indians. His jersey said “Caucasians.” That is the sense of humor that represents Native Americans to me.

Q: What are your thoughts and feelings regarding Native American veterans and why they join the military given the government’s history and treatment of Native Americans?

A: There are many reasons that Native Americans join the military. I do not feel qualified to answer why Native Americans join the military. What I can answer is that the Code Talkers and other WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam War Native American veterans are proud of their service. They have an air of dignity. They are quiet and humble. They know their contribution to our country. They know how to say thank you when they are honored, and without using too many words. Without fanfare. I think we can all learn that lesson.

For the second part of your question, I think it is a travesty how some people have been treated. I think the Johnny Cash song “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” says it best. Our country has many problems, and systemic racism is on the top of the list. It is my hope that in some small way my images show that no matter who we are, where we come from, how we ended up here in our country, we are all American.

Q: Tell me why you’re headed to Normandy and what you’ll be doing there?

A: I have been hired by a delegation of Native Americans — about 80 veterans from various tribes — to travel to Normandy, France, for the 75th anniversary of D-Day. The Native American veterans will also be carrying Eagle Staffs to many of the functions surrounding the 75th anniversary. Eagle Staffs are very important to Native Americans. It represents who they are. A number of these Eagle Staffs will be represented in France. Only two years ago were they allowed to be carried in the activities surrounding D-Day anniversaries. In fact, only a few years ago, Eagle Staffs were officially recognized in our country.

I am also going to France to honor a WWII veteran I have photographed. Charles Shay, WWII D-Day veteran and Penobscot Indian Elder is being presented with the Freedom Medal by French President Macron. I am honored to know him, and to be at his ceremony and make his picture. 

Top photo: Abandoned German army bunker at Normandy, France. Courtesy of Pixabay.

Reporter , ASU Now

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Giving voice to Native American activism in Phoenix


May 29, 2019

In 2016, what began as a grassroots effort against the Dakota Access Pipeline drilling project in North Dakota grew into a sweeping movement gathering thousands of protesters from around the country to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

Several states away, Napoleon Marrietta, a member of the Phoenix area’s Gila River Indian Community, was engulfed in another Native-led battle, against a highway extension project in Phoenix. Napoleon Marrietta, a graduate student in The College's American Indian Studies program, grew up not far from the Tempe campus on the Gila River Indian Community. After completing concurrent bachelor's degrees in social justice and American Indian studies, Napoleon Marrietta is set to graduate with a master's degree from The College's American Indians Studies program this fall. Download Full Image

The 22-mile Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway stretch was designed to ease traffic congestion. But its path cut through a portion of South Mountain, a range highly sacred to tribes across the Valley. When Standing Rock was taking off, Marrietta and other activists were in the middle of a legal battle to stop the freeway construction in its tracks.

But where Standing Rock galvanized Native Americans nationwide, the fight for South Mountain didn’t move far past Phoenix.

That difference is part of what propelled a return to academia for Marrietta, now a graduate student in The College of Liberal Arts and SciencesAmerican Indian Studies program at Arizona State University.

“Standing Rock had people from all over the place, including Phoenix tribes, coming together to battle this huge issue,” he said. “Fighting for South Mountain, we were grassroots, youth-led and trying to move forward with the weight of it all on our shoulders — I think my question now is why that huge mobilization sometimes doesn’t happen, even with something in our backyard.”

Urban organizing

From immigration and the border to incarceration and desert city planning, Arizona is a melting pot of issues. As the state capital, initiatives started in Phoenix have the potential to cast a wider net than perhaps anywhere else in the state. But with a metropolitan area of over 5 million residents, how does any one issue find its voice?

That’s one question Marrietta is looking to unravel in his thesis that focuses on how indigenous activists adapt and organize in the Valley’s urban sprawl.

The American Indian Studies program offers a master’s degree in tribal leadership and governance, and another in indigenous rights and social justice. After graduating from ASU with concurrent bachelor’s degrees in justice studies and American Indian studies in 2017, Marrietta saw the social justice graduate track as a chance to expand on both.

“I returned to gain more from the knowledge of my professors here and the efforts they have made in their communities, it made me feel like I could do something to contribute, too,” he said.

Native presence in Arizona

There are 22 tribal nations across Arizona today. Phoenix, its surroundings and ASU itself sit on the ancestral lands of many of them, including the Akimel O’odham and Pee-Posh constituting the Gila River Indian Community of which Marrietta is a part.

Growing up on tribal land just southeast of Phoenix, Marrietta immersed himself in environmental and social issues affecting his community while in high school. But he hesitates to call himself an activist. Instead, he sees his work as a response to his own experiences.

“Not having clean water sometimes, for example, or even the fact that you are growing up on a reservation, those are all issues, but you don’t really think about them that way, they are just a part of your life,” he said. “I didn’t really get into the literature and hearing similar things from other people until coming to ASU.”

Now set to graduate this fall, his research offers an academic examination of local struggles he is intimately familiar with.

Research as advocacy

Marrietta and fellow tribal, environmental and community activists spent years challenging the South Mountain freeway construction before a trial in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case in 2017.

As the project nears completion today, he said recounting the fight is a painful process. But experiencing the highs and lows of social movements from the ground level also gave him a new perspective on the topics he learned at ASU and what felt like an opening to add new narratives to the record of history.

Documenting the fight through research is a way to honor those who gave their energy and explore his own role within it.

“Defending South Mountain was something I was active in, but so many came before me on that issue and others — I am just a sliver of something much larger,” he said. “My research now is focused on connecting the contributions of elders, youth and people with varying levels of education; those experiences are different, but (it) all feeds into one community.”

More than 3,000 Native American students were enrolled in ASU in 2018, a number that has more than doubled in the last decade and is now among the highest in the country. Still, with over 100,000 students across four campuses and multiple locations, the population represents a small percentage of ASU’s overall population.

For Marrietta, who also works as an American Indian Student Support ServicesASU American Indian Student Support Services is a unit of ASU's University College. graduate pathways assistant, elevating Native perspectives on and off campus is part of what fuels his drive to continue in academia.

“Dealing with social justice issues means that everyone wants a seat at the table, so sometimes the challenge is actually just being a Native American or indigenous person in these places,” he said. “But building upon an institution requires research, which in turn helps people understand things better — by writing about these groups, I figure I can contribute in a small way to that.”

Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

480-965-5870

Dean’s Medalist uses music, education to advocate for Native Americans in Arizona


May 9, 2019

Editor's note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

Libraries and hip-hop might not seem the most obvious pair. But for Arizona State University alumnus Alexander Soto, both are platforms to illustrate the struggles facing Native Americans in Arizona and to forge a path forward. Alexander Soto graduated with a bachelor's degree in American Indian Studies from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences this spring.  Alexander Soto graduated this spring with a bachelor's degree from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences' American Indian Studies program. Download Full Image

Soto graduated this spring with a bachelor’s degree from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ American Indian Studies program. He was recognized during convocation as a Dean’s Medalist.

As a member of southern Arizona’s Tohono O’odhamToday’s Tohono O’odham Nation, which translates to desert people, sits just west of Tucson, but the tribe’s ancestral homeland spans southern Arizona and much of the northern Mexican state of Sonora, where a few thousand tribal members still remain. Nation, the issues he’s studied within the program are intimately familiar.

Growing up in Phoenix and making frequent trips farther south, Soto saw firsthand how border security crackdowns impacted his tribal land and the people living on it. Listening to rising hip-hop stars inspired him to put his thoughts to paper.

“Groups like Public Enemy, N.W.A. and The Roots spoke to issues within the African American community,” he said. “I was a Tohono O’odham experiencing similar injustices in Phoenix, but also had this other experience with the border — I wanted to speak to all of that as a hip-hop artist.”

That was the impetus behind Shining Soul, a hip-hop trio founded by Soto and two friends that sought to shed light on indigenous and Chicano perspectives in Arizona.

The group became a powerful vehicle for social justice advocacy during Soto’s early years at ASU in 2010.

“Native American people sometimes feel as though we are an invisible population within American society,” said Michelle Hale, an assistant professor in the American Indian Studies program and a Laguna, Chippewa and Odawa citizen of the Navajo Nation. “Alex Soto’s message and music reminded people everywhere that we are here, and thriving.”

 Over the next several years, Soto kept producing music, gained an associate degree from Phoenix College, and found a new passion in what started as a job at the Phoenix public library to pay the bills.

“I started working there to support myself and my music, but then it also turned out to be one of the first places Shining Soul held rhyme-writing workshops for youth,” he said. “For us, it was a place where hip-hop could be presented in an institutional format, while also helping young people understand what they are capable of.”

Soto continued to work in public libraries across the Phoenix area and then transitioned to facilities with ASU Library.

In the fall of 2017, he returned to ASU to complete his bachelor’s degree. Courses in the American Indian Studies program helped tether the border realities Shining Soul had conveyed to the historical policies that shaped them. An internship working with tribal and elementary school libraries in the Phoenix area’s Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community allowed him to further understand the facilities as tools for tribal sovereignty and empowerment.

The experience also helped solidify Soto’s plans after graduation.  

“Libraries in Native communities can be used firstly as a library like anywhere else, but also as a cultural center offering everything from story time in our native language, to job-finding services and even hip-hop workshops,” he said. “I realized all the passions I've had in my life can be funneled into library work.”

Soto will enter a master’s degree program later this year in library sciences through the University of Arizona’s Knowledge River program, an initiative focused on training librarians concentrated on Latina/o and Native American cultural issues.  

He answered a few questions about his journey at ASU and the impact of The College’s American Indian Studies program, below.

Question: What's something you learned while at ASU in the classroom or otherwise that surprised you or changed your perspective?

Answer: Coming back to school after time away actually gave me some privilege in the academic space. I had the chance to experience a lot of what we're reading about firsthand, and I was able to articulate that during discussions. It made me realize it's a process to get to a point where you want to take action.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: As a first-generation college student, it was always going to be ASU in a lot of ways just because it was the local school. I had always planned to do the community college to ASU pipeline.

l also realized there's a long history of Native scholars in the American Indian Studies program. I think it provides a way to see how historic laws still impact tribal nations to this day. Having this degree allows you to become an expert in the field and be able to challenge these laws when needed.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while you were at ASU?

A: Wow, really they all did in their own way! But I guess it goes back to James Riding In. I took two of his classes while at ASU the first time, and our paths always crossed through activism outside of school. I think he did an amazing job of showing the importance of knowing the law, but also knowing that we have to think outside the box to find ways to agitate the system. He taught us to empower ourselves first on our own and let the laws catch up with us.

Q: What is the best piece of advice you'd give to those still in school?

A: One reason I left in 2010 was because I lost the funding of my tribal scholarship and didn't want to take out  loans. So I would tell those who do have the financial support of scholarships, definitely take advantage of it and don’t take it for granted. And if you're not ready for school, it might be best to step away until you’re focused and ready.

For minority communities, especially Native communities, I’d just say to put yourself out there. This campus is yours. You can go to the library, you can inhabit places that are not traditionally looked upon as a Native space. Forming relationships with non-Native friends also made me a more diverse person. Working in town and in libraries, I've always had a mix of people around me, and I think that really helps your development, both professionally and as a student.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you do with it?

A: As an O’odham who has roots in Mexico, I would use that money to buy our land back from the Mexican government. Tohono O’odham on the U.S. side have a reservation system, those on the Mexican side do not. There is now an entire group of people there who look like me, speak the same language and have the same customs, but are technically Mexican citizens because they're divided by the border. If we had some substantial money we could have designated land on both sides and set up infrastructure for schools and libraries.

I think that would be important because it would connect  sides. Doing it would also indirectly address a lot of bigger issues surrounding the border. For us, it’s a matter of community and being connected. Highlighting that will hopefully make people realize this is not an immigration issue, this is a matter of an entire people being divided — just like East and West Germany or North and South Korea. I'd really like to bring attention to that as an example of what we are doing to indigenous people.

 

Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

480-965-5870

Geography student discovers passion and community at ASU


May 3, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

Often students arrive at college with set plans on what path they want to take over the next four years. Abigail Johnson was one of those students, but as she prepares to graduate from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences this spring, she advises others to not be afraid to change up their plans. Abigail Johnson Abigail Johnson will graduate with her bachelor's degree in geography from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Download Full Image

“Follow what you think is right. There was a time that I really thought one major (journalism) was right for me and since I wanted it so bad and did an internship in it, I thought I would disappoint my family if I switched,” explained Johnson, who is graduating with her bachelor’s degree in geography from the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. “But when something doesn’t feel right, I think you should change your mind and really think within yourself and reflect.”

As a first-generation student, Johnson said she benefited from a number of resources in high school and while at ASU. One of those resources was AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination).

“(AVID) helps students who don’t have the tools for college, many are first-generation students. I didn’t know about the SAT, ACT and they tell you about those things and advise you to get involved,” she said.

During Johnson’s junior year at ASU, she was invited to speak to high schoolers at an AVID event.

I was so proud to be asked to speak at the conference. I loved it, just because I know what it’s like, I’ve been there in that exact same chair. It was really cool to be able to be the one to help them.”

Helping others was a consistent theme during Johnson’s time at ASU. She worked with elementary school students through America Reads during her freshman and sophomore years, frequently volunteered for events through American Indian Student Support Services and got involved with community gardening at the Polytechnic campus, which then led to work at the nonprofit organization Native Health. As an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation, Johnson said this work, in particular, was meaningful.

“To be around my people and to teach them about what I’ve learned at ASU about plants, it’s very fun.”

Johnson answered some questions about her time at ASU and shared what she has planned next.

Question: What’s your Sun Devil story?

Answer: I’m from El Mirage, Arizona, and grew up going back and forth to the Navajo Nation. I’m a first-generation student so my whole life I’ve been excited to go to university. I worked hard every single day in high school; I did community service and became really passionate about those kinds of things. Eventually, I made it here and really enjoyed it.

Q: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

A: I took GPH 111 with Erin Saffell. I walked into class and saw how passionate she was about the subject and I loved being in her class. I was taking journalism classes and realized I was looking more forward to going to that class than the journalism classes. I had office hours with her and told her I really loved physical geography and she told me to think about majoring in it and that’s when I decided to switch over.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: When I moved here I realized how being a first-generation student, I was always the one to lead my family. When I came here I met a lot of people and didn’t feel like I had so much weight on my shoulders. I think something surprising that I learned was that you really need people, and when you have the right people you can create better results than you could by yourself.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Professor Saffell. She taught me how to study and how each class is different. It can be hard as a freshman to build up the confidence to walk into office hours. I got over that barrier with her, she was very calm and I felt very comfortable in her environment. I’d ask her questions and from then on I wasn’t afraid to ask questions to other professors or TAs.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Students come here for their major but this is an opportunity for you to know yourself. Do something out of your major, like a club. For me, I love geography and maps but I had an interest in plants so I started doing those classes and I met my best friends there. Do something out of your element and nourish that. Create a hobby for yourself.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: My favorite spot on campus is the American Indian Students Services room, it’s a very safe space for me. It’s in Discovery Hall and on the walk there, there are beautiful trees leading the way.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: My husband is in medical school and starting his rotations so we’ll be traveling around the United States. I’m planning to intern at some urban planning firms or work as a GIS analyst.

Q: What would you say to someone considering ASU?

A: Do it, it’s a very great school. There are so many opportunities here, including employment opportunities. It’s very good for someone getting out of high school, especially when they don’t know anything because there’s a good community once you’re here.

Kirsten Kraklio

Content Strategist and Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

480-965-8986

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