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3 students win Udall scholarship to pursue environmental, tribal careers

3 Sun Devils win elite Udall award to pursue environmental, tribal careers.
April 30, 2020

ASU has most winners of prestigious award in more than 20 years

Three Arizona State University students have won the prestigious Udall Undergraduate Scholarship, the most winners in more than 20 years.

The Udall scholarship recognizes outstanding undergraduates who are pursuing environmental careers and Native American students who want to work in tribal public policy or tribal health. Only 55 scholarships were awarded this year nationwide.

ASU’s Udall Scholars are Nekiyah Draper, Tahiry Langrand and Grant Real Bird. Two other Sun Devils received honorable mentions in the competition: Alec Dugin, who wants to pursue a career in tribal health and is majoring in genetics, cell and developmental biology, and Catalina Alvarez Flores, who wants to work in tribal public policy and is pursuing degrees in anthropology and family and human development.

ASU students who want to apply for prominent scholarships get a lot of support from the the Lorraine W. Frank Office of National Scholarships Advisement at ASU. Last year, Brianna Miloz started working in the scholarship office specially to guide applications to the Udall program. She worked to recruit applicants and then helped them to clarify their goals and highlight their passions, particularly in the 800-word essay that’s required for the application.

“That’s a key aspect because it’s very focused on themselves, getting to the root of what they value, how they give back to the world and what legacy they want to leave behind,” Miloz said.

“We tend to be humble and we have a hard time talking about the great things about ourselves, so I had to get that out of them and tell them to state it clearly and be confident in their writing.”

The winners receive a $7,000 scholarship and attend a three-day conference in Tucson, where they work on case studies and workshops.

The scholarships are awarded by the Tucson-based Udall Foundation, which honors the legacies of brothers and former congressmen Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall, who also served as Secretary of the Interior. Besides the undergraduate scholarships, the foundation also funds the Native American Congressional Internship Program. Among the 12 recent internship winners are two students at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at ASU: Hilary Edwards, a member of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, and Dustin A. Rector, a member of the White Mountain Apache Tribe and a descendant of the Navajo Nation. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they will serve their internships in 2021.

Here’s more on the undergraduate Udall scholarship winners:

Nekiyah Draper


Bio: Graduated from Monument Valley High School in Kayenta, on the Navajo reservation, and is majoring in biomedical engineering.

Why she chose ASU: I chose ASU because they offered me a great scholarship and it’s close to home. I also kept in mind how ASU has a decent presence of Native American students on campus, which I thought would help with my college transition.

How she chose her major: I started off as a general engineering major on the Polytechnic campus. I then changed my major to biomedical engineering on the Tempe campus during my sophomore year. I knew I was interested in engineering but I did not know which specification of engineering I wanted to study. In the process of changing my major, I researched every specification of engineering to find what best suited me. I then came across biomedical engineering and it seemed to fit my aspirations and intellect perfectly.

What’s ahead: Since I changed my major, my graduation date is now set for May 2022. Once I graduate, I will work in a prosthetic manufacturing lab as a lab technician, while attending a graduate program to become a certified prosthetist. My ultimate goal once I am a prosthetist is to establish and operate prosthetic labs across the Navajo Nation to serve my community.

What she’s learned at ASU that inspired her: I have learned that being an engineer comes with an intrinsic responsibility to serve living beings and the environment.

Tahiry Langrand

Bio: Graduated from South Lakes High School in Reston, Virginia, and is majoring in sustainability with a focus in ecosystems sustainability.

Why he chose ASU: I chose to attend ASU because the university hosts the nation’s first School of Sustainability, is a top-ranked research institution, and promotes inclusion and innovation as its foremost values.

How he chose his major: I chose to pursue a BS in sustainability to offer me a breadth of knowledge on both human and natural systems. This exposes me to a multi- and transdisciplinary mentality, a vital outlook on how to solve global issues. As a naturalist and conservationist, I chose to focus on biodiversity loss and ecosystem health.

What’s ahead: After graduation, I would like to gain cross-cultural research experience through a fellowship abroad such as the Fulbright program. After, I plan on attending graduate school to specialize in biodiversity science, and then enter the professional world through a conservation (nongovernmental organization), advancing science in a corporate position, or working on public policy. I would like my career to focus on mitigating biodiversity loss in order to serve the global community, improve human well-being, and promote environmental sustainability.

What he’s learned at ASU that inspired him: At ASU, I have learned several fundamental sustainability concepts with the most prominent being systems thinking. This holistic problem-solving approach has solidified my perspective of including humans as a functioning part of the environment, which has allowed me to identify a clearer career path.

Grant Real Bird

Bio: Graduated from Blue Ridge High School in Pinetop and is majoring in environmental resource management with a certification in wildlife management.

Why he chose ASU: I chose ASU for the diverse opportunity in programs and education. ASU has one of the largest networks in the country and I wanted to be a part of that Sun Devil family! I also wanted to see what life in the city would be like and I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

How he chose his major: The major I chose really looked into the scientific and regulatory aspect of U.S. environmental laws and programs. I wanted to learn more about how to help combat climate change and reduce the amount of pollution we produce as a country. The wildlife certification gives me insight into how to manage populations of animals and take care of the natural ecosystem for all to enjoy. I like to see it as helping people and helping animals.  

What’s ahead: There are so many things that are out there that I wish to do, such as becoming a writer or a professional snowboarder, but right now I hope to one day help my tribe with an array of environmental and wildlife issues either as a wildlife ranger or environmental coordinator. Any good that I can do for my tribe — White Mountain Apache and Crow (Apsáalooke) — and the people won’t be easy, but I’m up for a challenge.

What he’s learned at ASU that inspired him: I have learned about the importance of teamwork and resilience from being here at ASU. Since freshman year, I have collaborated in many projects and internships related to the environment and wildlife species. ASU taught me that if you have a long-term vision, then you need help from others to achieve that vision. ASU gave me the opportunity to look at different careers and job choices to guide me to a better future.

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


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Navajo woman earns 3 degrees in 15-year journey at ASU

Navajo woman earning 3 ASU degrees after 15-year journey and many obstacles.
April 27, 2020

Jessica Antonio overcame many obstacles, including a spinal injury, to her degrees

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Jessica Antonio’s journey to graduation from Arizona State University is “one for the books,” as she says.

 By the numbers:

  • Years she spent working toward commencement: 15.
  • Degrees she is receiving: Three — in business, American Indian Studies and nutrition.
  • Campuses she attended: Three.
  • Graduation ceremonies she registered for: Five.
  • Obstacles she overcame: Many.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted life, Antonio had a remarkable story, taking 15 years and overcoming a spinal cord injury to get to graduation. And with the end in sight, her final semester looked very different than what she expected.

Antonio’s path to ASU started when she was a senior at Cienega High School in Tucson. She applied to the W. P. Carey School of Business and was accepted. But the family had no money for college.

“My dad said, ‘We’re not that type of family,” she said.

So they bought her a computer, a printer, a stack of envelopes and a pack of stamps.

“I think I applied to five scholarships per week,” she said.

A recruiter visited her school and encouraged her to apply for the SPIRIT program, a two-week summer stay on the ASU campus that prepares Native American students for college life. That program helped her finalize financial aid and scholarships, so in the fall of 2005, she came to ASU.

Antonio, who is Navajo, had good grades in high school in every subject except history. When her history teacher asked her why, she told him, “It’s not my history. I’m Native American first and the only time you mention us is when there’s trauma, the Long Walk or Trail of Tears or Thanksgiving or Lewis and Clark. It doesn’t tell me anything about my heritage or culture or language.”

So as a freshman, Antonio was excited to take a class in Native American history along with her general-education classes. And while it was a grueling, 400-level course, it was life-changing.

“It answered all my questions. It covered the AIM movement, assimilation, boarding schools, everything that Native Americans have dealt with since colonization,” she said, so she decided to add American Indian Studies as a minor.

As Antonio approached the completion of her business degree, she took a class in business ethics that highlighted an existential crisis for her. The course required a case study in which a mining company is polluting the water of an indigenous community of people.

“The question was, ‘How do you resolve this issue?’ And the choices were to pay for education, build houses with plumbing, build roads, give them electricity and internet. I said, ‘Stop mining,’” she said.

“And I thought that maybe business wasn’t the route I wanted to take. I was more on the humanities side.”

So she decided to get dual degrees, in business and American Indian Studies.

Around that time, Antonio was diagnosed with diabetes, a condition that afflicts both her parents. And not long after that, her arm was badly cut in a car accident.

“I was beat up and not going to the gym, and I was gaining weight,” she said.

“So I saw a nutritionist for the first time.”

Drawn to the idea of focusing on health and sharing that with her Navajo community, Antonio applied to earn a third degree, in nutrition, and began taking the required science courses in fall 2011. By this point, she had attended classes at the Polytechnic, Tempe and Downtown Phoenix campuses.

She loved her nutrition classes and doing community outreach, and she had a part-time job in addition to a full-time course load. But in 2013, Antonio was in a terrible car accident, which injured her spinal cord. She had to take a medical leave from ASU, which ended up lasting four years.

In the first year after the crash, she was in constant pain.

“I had to sleep on the floor and crawl to the bathroom,” she said. “At the time, my focus was only on the basics, getting to the restroom, eating something, drinking water and going to sleep.”  

It was a dark time.

“I couldn’t pay my rent or my bills. The hardest thing was returning all the scholarship money to the people who had invested in my academics,” she said.

She got food from a church pantry and hygiene supplies from the Salvation Army. She applied for food stamps.

When her lease was up, she decided to move back with her family on the Navajo reservation.

“It was a blessing,” she said. “My father cooked for me. My brother helped me to sit outside. They took the stress off me.”

During that time, she had surgery, got injections and did physical therapy to learn to walk again. It was endless medical appointments and mountains of paperwork.

“You really learn the health care system when you get a bill that says, ‘You owe us $15,000,’” she said.

There were many tears, and she tried to cry softly in her room so her family wouldn’t hear her.

Antonio knew she needed to finish college, but she wanted to wait until she was back to 100%. But when she attended a pain-management support group, she met a woman who had such severe migraines that she couldn’t work. But the woman did take classes.

“She told me that if all you do is go to doctor appointments, you’ll drive yourself crazy and you have to have a goal,” she said.

Antonio also found encouragement from the Arizona Spinal Cord Injury Association.

“I met other people that had spinal cord injuries,” she said. “Most were paraplegics or quadriplegics and they were working 8 to 5 Monday through Friday. It really opened up my eyes.”

So she decided to move her life back to Tempe. It was struggle to find an apartment she could afford through Section 8 and to get everything she needed. She still had mobility issues.

In fall 2017, she resumed classes part time, working steadily toward graduation with help from the Disability Resource Center at ASU.

At the beginning of this semester, everything seemed to be on track. Antonio was looking into graduate school to become a registered dietician and asking professors for reference letters.

Then in March, as the COVID-19 pandemic grew into a crisis, the university announced that all classes would go online.

Just as the end was in sight, Antonio faced another obstacle.

“I’ve never owned a laptop. I’ve done all 15 years of my academics with the computers in ASU’s libraries -- every assignment and every paper,” she said.

Antonio had been working with a counselor in the state Department of Economic Security’s vocational rehabilitation department. She had requested funding for a laptop years ago and was denied. But as classes shifted to an online format, she tried again and received a laptop over spring break.

Getting internet installed into her apartment took another week, so she worked at Starbucks or in parking lots on campus to get a Wi-Fi signal.

“I didn’t show myself on Zoom because I was sitting in my car,” she said.

She has also been worrying about her mother, who works in health care on the reservation.

“I was crying over the phone with her and I was afraid for her and she told me, ‘I’m sorry this is making you scared but I’m here to help my people,’” Antonio said.

“She told me, ‘If you’re going into the health field, you need to know this.’”

As graduation approached, Antonio registered for five ceremonies: the main undergraduate commencement and the convocations for the W. P. School of Business, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the College of Health Solutions and the American Indian Convocation.

She was excited to not just walk across five stages but also to just literally walk.

“I’m very disappointed. I waited 15 years and it’s not just the three degrees but also the other accomplishments,” she said. “I used to walk with two canes and now I walk with one.

“And I wanted to have my family there.”

But she’s looking forward to the future.

“I want to work on my reservation to give something back to the people in my community,” she said.

Antonio answered a few questions from ASU Now:

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

Answer: I would tell them to not give up, and they need to ask for help. If it’s a professor problem, ask a professor. If it’s student support, know your resources on campus and take advantage of them. Know that you can finish your goal and find resources out there. For me, it was vocational rehabilitation, Section 8 housing and Social Security. Without those I wouldn’t have been able to focus. The Disability Resource Center was amazing.

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

A: My favorite spot was the Labriola National American Indian Data Center. It made me feel like I had a community at ASU and provided me with knowledge. Native American history in the public education system has been swept under the rug. But at the Labriola center I could have that history in my hands, which is rare to find. Finding that shared support and culture was amazing.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I want to become a registered dietitian and work on my reservation, but before I do that I’d like to work at the Phoenix Indian Medical Center to get the skills I need.

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

A: I would protect the health care workers and I say that right now because my mom works in the health care field and doesn’t have the proper medical supplies, like masks or gloves. This is one of those things that shows the humanity in everybody.

Top image: Jessica Antonio, who is Navajo, is graduating with three degrees, in business, American Indian Studies and nutrition. She is holding some gifts from her family, including a maroon and gold wool blanket. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


Urban planning graduate aims to use education to support Native nations

April 15, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

As Hannah Trostle prepares for graduation this May with a Master of Urban and Environmental Planning degree from the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, she looks forward to helping communities similar to those in which she grew up.  Hannah Trostle, Master of Urban and Environmental Planning May 2020 graduate, wears her graduation dress, a traditional Cherokee dress. Download Full Image

A citizen of the Cherokee Nation, Trostle’s research at Arizona State University focuses on indigenous planning, which involves working with Native communities to ensure their culture, customs and traditions are considered in developing community land-use plans.

“I think it’s really important to find ways to give back to our communities in as many ways as possible,” Trostle said on a recent call from her hometown of Outing, Minnesota. “With urban planning and indigenous planning, it just became a natural fit.” 

With an undergraduate degree in political science and classical languages from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, Trostle was inspired to earn her Master of Urban and Environmental Planning degree so she could apply technical skills to solve community planning problems.

“All of the things that I found fascinating about political science in my undergraduate program — institutions, the general public, infrastructure — I could just find more applicability for them in policies within urban planning, and there was more opportunity to explore data and geography through maps.” 

Trostle’s long-term goal is to one day run her own consulting firm and work with different Native nations around the U.S., to spread the principles of indigenous planning around as widely as possible. 

“Indigenous planning is a growing field that’s constantly evolving. What we think of as indigenous planning today won't necessarily be what indigenous planning is in the future,” Trostle said. “It’s not just planning within indigenous communities, it’s planning by indigenous communities.”

Ahead of commencement, we asked her a few questions about her time at ASU:

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

A: This is going to sound funny, but the concept of starter homes is something that I was not really familiar with. I grew up pretty rural, pretty poor, so the idea that you would buy a house only to live in it for three or four years before you immediately turn around and buy a bigger house that you would only spend a couple more years in just didn’t make sense to me. A large part of building wealth and home equity was surprising to me until my first year at ASU when I was taking all these classes on general principles of planning and community building. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Someone I admire, Georgia Bullen at the New America Foundation, recommended I look at Arizona State because her former adviser David King had just gone to ASU. Really, a large part of why I’m at Arizona State is because I was following David King, which is a little hilarious because he and I ended up never working on any research projects together, but it was this concept that he was an excellent professor who was going to what looked to be an excellent university. 

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

A: The most important lesson I learned at ASU was from professor Sara Meerow. She was the main faculty person for one of the classes I was a teacher’s assistant for. She specifically told me that most deadlines can be flexible and there are only one or two true deadlines within academia. 

That was a good lesson to learn, because even within the workforce when I was working hours past 40 hours a week, I would always do my best to hit every single deadline, but it turns out that a lot of deadlines can be moved or changed or altered and that it is very important to value your own health more than arbitrary deadlines. 

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

A: Treat school like you would your full-time job because it really is. If you do your best to work from 9-5 then try to make sure you are able to work on all your homework and schoolwork between 9-5. If you work the best working remotely or working multiple random sorts of hours, make sure those are the hours you are dedicating to your schoolwork. We’re here to learn; learning is our job. 

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

A: King Coffee, right behind ASU’s Coor building. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I moved back to Minnesota and am looking for full-time positions, preferably within one of the local city governments in the Twin Cities area. 

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

A: I would develop a proof of concept for more bike infrastructure to reduce car dependency. I find that car dependency is one of the biggest problems we keep running into in urban planning. Figuring out different modes of transportation is important for health and all sorts of other problems. Forty million dollars would be good to do a proof of concept in a couple of different cities as far as better bike infrastructure and better e-bike systems. 

David Rozul

Communications Program Coordinator, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning


ASU Law professor wins American Bar Association diversity award

Patty Ferguson-Bohnee honored as fierce defender of Native voting rights

February 14, 2020

Professor Patty Ferguson-Bohnee, faculty director of the Indian Legal Program at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, will be honored by the American Bar Association as one of five recipients of the 2020 Spirit of Excellence Award.

Administered by the ABA’s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession, the Spirit of Excellence Award recognizes legal professionals who have demonstrated excellence and a commitment to racial and ethnic diversity. Recognizing the challenges that racially and ethnically diverse professionals can face in the legal world, the motto for the award is “Ad Astra Per Aspera,” a Latin phrase meaning “to the stars through difficulties.” photo of Patty Ferguson-Bohnee Patty Ferguson-Bohnee, clinical professor and faculty director of the Indian Legal Program at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, presents at the program's welcome dinner in 2019. Download Full Image

The five recipients will be honored in a ceremony Feb. 15 at the American Bar Association’s midyear meeting in Austin, Texas.

Ferguson-Bohnee, who also directs ASU Law’s Indian Legal Clinic and serves as a clinical professor of law, joined ASU Law in 2007. And according to Robert Osley Saunooke, president of the National Native American Bar Association, her life and career in the legal profession can be summed up by one word: service.

“Her life before, during and after law school has centered on serving others, in and outside the Native American community,” Saunooke wrote in a letter nominating Ferguson-Bohnee for the Spirit of Excellence Award. “She has chaired numerous Native American committees; presided as president of the National Native American Law Students Association, National Native American Bar Association, Native American Bar Association of Arizona (of which she was a founding member) and the Miss Indian Arizona Scholarship Committee. Few have done or been more dedicated to public service in such a short period of time.”

And Saunooke noted, few have done more to advance the cause of Native American voting rights.

“Patty has been a grassroots organizer of the Arizona Native American voting initiative and has organized and written on the unique issues impacting Native American voters,” he said. “She has testified before Congress and the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, is a published author on Native American voting issues, a panelist on more Native American presentations and issues than anyone I have ever known and does not know how to say no to any request to help the Native American community.”

Longtime ASU Law colleague Myles Lynk, himself a past recipient of the Spirit of Excellence Award, underscored Ferguson-Bohnee’s work for the Indian Legal Program and Indian Legal Clinic, helping Native American communities throughout Arizona, her native Louisiana and the rest of the country.

“She has helped four Louisiana tribes obtain state recognition of their tribal status,” Lynk said. “She has represented tribal clients in administrative, state, federal and tribal courts, as well as before state and local governing bodies, and proposed revisions to the Real Estate Disclosure Reports to include tribal provisions. Patty has represented Native American litigants in complex voting rights litigation on behalf of tribes, and she has drafted state legislative and congressional testimony on behalf of tribes with respect to voting rights’ issues. In fact, Patty serves as the Native vote election protection coordinator for the state of Arizona.”

History of the Spirit of Excellence Award

The award was first given out in 1996, and the latest class brings the total number of honorees to 143. Ferguson-Bohnee is the fifth representative of ASU Law to receive the honor, joining Rebecca Tsosie (2002), Charles Calleros (2011), Kevin Gover (2011) and Lynk (2013).

Calleros said it was an honor to be recognized for his years of work organizing mentoring and prelaw programs for diverse populations of middle school, high school and college students.

“It has been gratifying to see that eighth-grade students in low-income communities can develop arguments in a legal method exercise, that high school students can advocate ably and persuasively in moot court competitions, and that college students can actively engage in a sample class taken from an actual lesson plan for an upper-division law course,” he said.

Lynk was recognized for the work he has done with minority student groups, as well as the National Bar Association, the nation’s oldest and largest national network of predominantly African American attorneys and judges.

“I had done a lot of work to make sure that we were addressing the needs — and to make sure that students were understanding their responsibility to help address the needs when they got into practice — of minority communities who really need legal representation,” he said. “So I was incredibly grateful and incredibly humbled to receive the award. It was quite an honor.”

Lynk said ASU Law is alone in having five Spirit of Excellence winners, and that Ferguson-Bohnee is the third representative from the Indian Legal Program, following Tsosie and Gover.

photo of native vote

ASU Law Clinical Professor Patty Ferguson-Bonhee (center), who also runs the Indian Legal Clinic, stands with clinic students and volunteers with the Native Vote Election Protection Project, an outreach effort that helps Native Americans navigate challenges on Election Day.

“The fact that three of those five are from our Indian Legal Program shows that that program is meeting the purpose for which it was established, which was to train lawyers to go out and serve Native American communities,” he said. “This award recognizes lawyers who help and provide services to diverse communities so they have access to justice. And our ILP is doing that in an incredible way. And Patty, especially, has done a remarkable job with her imprint on voting rights and how hard she has fought to make sure votes on the reservation are counted.”

Saunooke pointed out the unique struggles that Native Americans can face in the legal profession and how important it is for others to have role models like Ferguson-Bohnee.

“The Native American legal community is perhaps the smallest group within the legal profession,” he said. “As such it is not easy for a Native American law practitioner to not only find employment and serve in the legal community, but it is also difficult to excel in the profession. Lack of opportunities, misperceptions of Native law and culture, and a host of other issues regularly cause Native attorneys to leave the profession. For this reason, it is readily apparent that the accomplishments of Patty Ferguson-Bohnee represent not only a Spirit of Excellence in the legal profession but a shining light in the Native American community that leads the way for others to believe in and follow. Sometimes it just takes one person to show others what can be done. Patty is that one person.”

Nicole Almond Anderson

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


New partnership brings ASU Prep Digital engineering course to Navajo Nation teens

February 10, 2020

Ashley Huskie, 17, has time to think on her hour-and-a-half bus ride to and from school. She makes the trip once a week so she can attend Greyhills Academy High School in Tuba City, Arizona, where she boards in the dormitory during the week and travels home, deeper in the Navajo Nation, on the weekends. She introduces herself with her clan names to honor where she’s from: Deer Spring People Clan, Towering House Clan, Edgewater People’s Clan and Bitter Water People’s Clan. 

A senior at Greyhills, Huskie is working toward a future in organic architecture inspired by her connection to her home and respect for the environment. Greyhills Academy High School students in the first ASU Prep Digital partnership cohort at their school in Tuba City Mary O'Malley (far left), ASU Prep Digital director of Arizona collaboratives, stands with with the Greyhills student cohort and Dana Van Deinse (far right), ASU Prep Digital executive director. Download Full Image

“Where I grew up, most of us, we have homes, yeah, but they’re mobile homes. Or some are regular homes, and they don’t seem to last long. People just leave them,” she said. “They don’t decay in the right way. They cause health issues … and no one can live there and the house just sits there.”

Since the seventh grade, Huskie has been interested in changing the way architecture and home building is approached, for public and environmental health. 

She is already working toward her future in organic architecture by learning in her own community; she’s one of 12 students at Greyhills who are taking an introduction to engineering course on their Tuba City campus thanks to a new partnership the school has with ASU Prep Digital

The cohort of juniors and seniors are taking Engineering 100 together in an initiative that allows students to start earning college credit, get exposed to relevant local career skills and access a huge catalog of coursework. The coursework blends live video sessions, online modules, hands-on project building and more. 

, Greyhills Academy High School senior

Ashley Huskie

There are more than 75 Arizona schools partnering with ASU Prep Digital, but Greyhills is the first tribal partnership and also the first partnership in northern Arizona. The collaboration was born out of a need that the principal voiced: to build a pipeline of educators and amplify college prep options that are accessible for Tuba City students, who sometimes face transportation and financial barriers in accessing higher education.

Greyhills Principal Loren Hudson said the cohort of students are critical thinkers who are hungry for knowledge and appreciate the opportunity to have ASU courses brought to them.

This opportunity is very significant. It allows for students to continue to take college courses that are not normally offered by dual enrollment,” he said. “I believe that it also allows for more rigor and relevance to the types of classes they are interested in and gets them more experience in the college setting.”

Native American students tend to be underrepresented on college campuses. According to the State of Indian Country Arizona Volume 1 report, 3.5% of people on Arizona reservations have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher. Mining, construction and health care are some of the biggest employment opportunities in northeastern Arizona. 

Opening more pathways to higher education was a key motivator in moving the collaboration forward. Mary O’Malley, director of Arizona collaboratives at ASU Prep Digital, said the partnership is a testament to Greyhills Academy’s dedication to their students.

“It’s about relationship building and building innovative models that focus on student success and increase levels of achievement,” said O’Malley. “It’s exciting to see the students begin their studies.” 

The cohort of students chose the engineering topic together; they started their coursework in January and will finish in April. Huskie, who will be the first person in her family to graduate from high school on time, said she was excited to take an engineering course because it will expose her to online classes and science and math. She plans to work in carpentry and take online courses after she graduates and then pursue a four-year degree in architecture. 

“I want to start a new trend to have organic homes that can decay in a good way but also can be up for a long while,” she said. “And I want to be there for my siblings and show them that if I can do, it it’s possible for anyone else to do it and even for them.”

, Greyhills Academy High School senior

Tillman Claw

Tillman Claw, 17, is another senior in the ASU Prep Digital cohort. He said he loves the engineering class because it allows him to harness his interest in creating and building.

“What I’ve liked most about it is that it brings out the creativity in the students. For me, I get to create stuff with my hands because I’m a hands-on person,” he said.  

He said the pace of the course and the peer-to-peer help has made for a collaborative and supportive environment. His favorite part of the class so far was when students had to build a tower out of tissue paper to see how they could make it stand. 

After graduation, Claw plans on working and doing general studies for a year before going on a religious mission trip and then going to school for engineering. He has always loved to build and grew up watching and learning carpentry from his dad. Claw said the engineering coursework was a great preview of what’s ahead in college.

“I wanted to see how the college class was … and be able to build on that if I keep going in engineering,” he said.

The introduction to engineering course is one of about 200 college courses that ASU Prep Digital offers students that go beyond dual enrollment and Advanced Placement. Though any student anywhere in the world can be enrolled in ASU Prep Digital, school partnerships offer greatly reduced tuition, typically about a 30% to 50% savings, for resources that complement what is offered at students’ schools of record. 

O’Malley emphasized that schools’ state funding is not affected by partnering with ASU Prep Digital. Typically either families, schools or districts pay for tuition or curriculum licensing. In the case of Greyhills, the school made the investment so that students could access the coursework at the high school at no cost.

“They’re really investing in their students, and they see the potential and the importance of this opportunity for the kids,” said O’Malley. “Dr. Hudson has worked closely with parents, his school board and the community, and they all really support his vision.” 

O’Malley said that no two ASU Prep Digital partnerships with Arizona schools are alike because the offerings are tailored to what schools need. In Eloy, a partnership helped provide Spanish teachers when the district had a shortage; in Maryvale, ASU Prep Digital provided a rigorous algebra option for gifted seventh and eighth graders; in Miami, a partnership offered a new blended-learning option and teacher training to bolster student resources and outcomes. She said that the partnership may continue after the spring semester, but for now everyone is just happy to see the opportunities at work. 

Hudson, who grew up on the Navajo Reservation with his parents and grandparents, attended school in Tuba City. He earned his bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and doctorate at Northern Arizona University, and he said it means a great deal to him to promote higher education at Greyhills. 

We believe that postsecondary opportunities being offered to students here will open new doors for them and their families — and indirectly our community,” he said. 

At Greyhills, Hudson said they believe that cooperation is key to furthering education and that he’s thankful to ASU Prep Digital and Arizona State University for the collaboration.

It will take a concerted effort to improve things and issues in our society that we share. We also believe that it is through educating our youth and empowering our communities that we can grow in this positive direction,” said Hudson.

Learn more about ASU Prep Digital or school partnerships.  

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services


ASU Law receives $5M in support of new Los Angeles building, Indian Legal Program

January 31, 2020

The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians made a $5 million gift to Arizona State University to provide for the renovation of the historic Herald Examiner Building in Los Angeles and to establish an endowment to support the Indian Legal Program’s Indian Gaming and Tribal Self-Governance programs at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at ASU.

"The generous gift from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians will continue to ensure that we offer a world-class legal education for citizens of tribal nations and prepare them for careers in such fields as Indian gaming and tribal self-governance," ASU President Michael Crow said. "Through this generous gift, our students will have opportunities to interact with and learn from the best professors and, if they so choose, study in Los Angeles.” photo of ILP students The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians made a $5 million gift to ASU to provide for the renovation of the historic Herald Examiner Building in Los Angeles and to establish an endowment to support the Indian Legal Program at ASU Law. Here, several students pose during the blanket ceremony at spring 2019 convocation. Download Full Image

Based in southern California near the cities of San Bernardino and Highland, San Manuel administers a robust program of philanthropy, which prioritizes the program areas of education, health care, community development and programs that promote the arts, museums and initiatives that protect the environment. Since 2003, the tribe has contributed more than $260 million in support of nonprofit organizations and community groups, including Indian tribes and native nonprofits.

Native Americans are among the most underrepresented groups in inclusion, retention and representation in the legal community. Of the 1.3 million attorneys in the nation, only 0.3% are Native American. In addition to historical, institutional exclusion of Native Americans from higher education, several factors hinder Native Americans from pursuing legal education, including lack of resources, little or no connection of higher education institutions to tribal communities and difficulties navigating the application process.

ASU Law’s Indian Legal Program was established in 1988 to help break down these barriers, and to provide legal education and generate scholarly writing in the area of Indian law. The Indian Legal Program has become one of the best Native law programs in the nation, recognized for its strong partnerships with American Indian tribal communities and growing relationships with Indian nations and organizations nationally.

“We are pleased to fund an endowment to support the Indian Gaming and Tribal Self-Governance programs within ASU Law’s Indian Law Program,” said Chairwoman Lynn Valbuena, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. “Tribal nations today are facing critical economic and governance challenges in an increasingly complex world, which will require highly educated tribal citizens to navigate a path to the future. These programs at ASU will provide a means for tribes to achieve self-determination.”

The San Manuel gift will support increasing educational opportunities in the field of Indian law, the expansion of work experience for students interested in Indian law and will contribute to the development of Indian law trainings for Indian tribes and organizations.

The Indian Legal Program is also home to one of the highest concentrations of Native American and Indian law students in the nation. To date, over 360 students have graduated from the program — representing over 100 tribes across the country — serving state, federal and tribal governments and working in private practice.

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ASU Law founding faculty member and Judge William Canby Jr. poses with Indian Legal Program students during the "Welcome Back" dinner in 2019.

“ASU Law has a long history and deep commitment to its Indian Legal Program," said Douglas Sylvester, ASU Law dean and professor of law. "U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge William Canby Jr., a founding faculty member at the law school in 1967, taught the first classes in Indian law and was instrumental in the creation of the Indian Legal Program. Today, the Indian Legal Program has hundreds of alumni and is one of the largest Indian law programs in the country.”

Of the $5 million gift to ASU, $2.5 million will benefit capital improvements to renovate the historic Herald Examiner Building in Los Angeles. The 1914 five-story building is listed as a Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument and is being restored to its original Spanish Colonial structure.

In April 2019, the Arizona Board of Regents approved the building lease for ASU to expand its presence in California at the Herald Examiner Building. About 12,000 California residents call ASU home for their education. The building is scheduled to open in 2021, and ASU will occupy 87% of the space for programming, collaboration, outreach and research for several of its schools.

Nicole Almond Anderson

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


Geography student makes hometown impact on Navajo Nation

January 30, 2020

After winter exams, while many students were eager to scramble home, kick their feet up and empty their minds, Jayvion Chee sat down, opened his books and began to plot his next four weeks.

He was determined to use this time to make an impact on his hometown of Fort Defiance, Arizona, and armed with his education and a resilient mindset, the dream he had been chasing since he was a teen was finally starting to come to fruition. Jayvion Chee (center) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Wildland Fire and Aviation Management, Navajo Region. Photo courtesy of Jayvion Chee. Download Full Image

Chee, a Diné tribe member and graduate student pursuing a Master of Advanced Study in Geography Information Systems in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning at Arizona State University, secured a rare winter internship with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), Wildland Fire and Aviation Management, Navajo Region, through the BIA Partnerships Program. There he leveraged computer science technology and geographic data to help optimize the bureau’s emergency services delivery.

“It’s what I’ve always wanted to do,” Chee said. “To find a way to use my education to benefit not just my tribe but other tribes. The BIA offered me that chance to come back to where I’m from and where my family lives and use the skills I have learned to create change. I’m extremely grateful.”

The drive to come back home

Fort Defiance is an arid desert community on the Navajo Nation, a self-governed nation with more than 17.5 million acres in the Four Corners region, where raising and selling livestock underpins the economy and culture, and access to professional career opportunities can be challenging.

Today, nearly 40% of households on the Navajo Nation don’t have reliable access to running water and unemployment fluctuates between 40% to 50%, with about 40% of families living below the federal poverty rate.

For Chee, it’s these realities of home and his roots in a humble beginning that formed a strong bond between him and his community. He’s motivated to give back to the place and people that raised him.

Jayvion Chee, Diné tribe member and graduate student pursuing a Master of Advanced Study in Geography Information Systems in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. Photo Courtsey of Javion Chee.

“Growing up in Fort Defiance and the Navajo Nation, a lot of youth don’t have the opportunity or ability to get a secondary education and earn a degree,” Chee said. “Unfortunately, even with an education there’s no guarantee work will be available here on the reservation. There are few positions; they’re very competitive, which can discourage a lot of Natives.”

Chee isn’t deterred.

“The reality of it is that we just don’t have many Navajo professionals in high leadership professional positions. I want to be that someone who is Navajo and that understands the area, the culture, and who gets the education degree and comes back home that can help in that area and that type of field.”

Improving fire response with GIS

Working with BIA Wildland Fire and Aviation Management, Chee leveraged his expertise in geography information systems (GIS) to collect, analyze and map road and boundary data to help optimize response times to get to a fire or disaster area faster and easier.

Bringing his unique perspective and familiarity with his hometown area to the project, Chee leveraged both private and publicly available data to identify road surface type, identified who managed specific road systems (U.S., state, county, or Bureau of Indian Affairs), and created a digital visualization story map.

Quickly excelling at the tasks asked of him, Chee’s project expanded from mapping his home agency of Fort Defiance to encompassing the mapping of four additional surrounding Navajo agencies, including the Chinle agency, the Eastern agency, Western agency and Ship Rock agency.

“The BIA, Navajo Region didn’t have a GIS person on staff,” Chee said. “To be in a position and map out my home community is something I never thought I would be doing. I’m actually helping out my community and it feels great.”

Leaving an impact

Chee is scheduled to complete his Master of Advanced Study in Geographic Information Systems in August 2020. Through the Bureau of Indian Affairs Partnerships Program, he has secured an entry-level career position with the Wildland Fire and Aviation Management, Navajo Region, upon completion of his degree and program requirements.

Chee says he is incredibly grateful for his family and the opportunities that his education and research have created for him.

“I was in Washington, D.C., presenting my research at a conference and saw the White House for the first time and said wow,” Chee recalled. “How did a little rez (reservation) boy like me get the ability to come out here and experience this?”

Chee is a model of possibility, not only for his peers but for the greater community.

“For me to come back to Fort Defiance it just makes me happy,” Chee said confidently as he flashed a smile. “To work for my own community and do something I love doing, like GIS, it’s a dream.”

Snapsot of the data visualization story map Chee created for BIA Wildland Fire and Aviation Management, Navajo Region. Courtesy of Jayvion Chee.

David Rozul

Communications Program Coordinator, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning


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ASU launches Center for Imagination in the Borderlands

ASU professor, poet Natalie Diaz launches a center to reimagine the borderlands.
MacArthur Fellow Natalie Diaz at center launch: "At ASU, our future is now."
January 24, 2020

New center brainchild of MacArthur Fellow Natalie Diaz, who aims to reimagine what America’s borderlands can be

The energy at Arizona State University's Katzin Concert Hall on Thursday night was mostly celebratory, sometimes solemn and decidedly female.

The university’s own wunderkind, MacArthur Fellow and renowned poet Natalie Diaz, served as master of ceremonies for an evening of readings, performance and discussion, all of which served to launch the Center for Imagination in the Borderlands, a brainchild of Diaz’s that she and her collaborators hope will spark inquiry, action and, ultimately, a reimagining of what America’s borderlands can be.

“I’ll ask that you consider the stories and energies of the lands we are on tonight,” Diaz said in her opening address to the audience, which had filled the hall to capacity. “What does it mean that we are here and some people are not?”

Diaz, who will serve as director of the center, thanked ASU President Michael Crow “for the energy to catalyze my own imagination,” as well as President’s Professor of indigenous education and justice Bryan Brayboy for his support.

“It’s not easy to be the body I am,” she said. “Queer, Native, Mexican, Latina, woman. It is lucky to have found ASU, that ASU found me, and that I am among these collaborators and provocateurs.”

woman speaking on stage, behind a lecturn, to an audience

ASU Associate Professor of English and Director of the Center for Imagination in the Borderlands Natalie Diaz addresses the audience at the center's launch event Thursday. Photo by Meg Potter/ASU Now

An impressive roster of artists rounded out the bill at Thursday’s launch event, taking the stage in the following order:

• President and CEO of United States Artists Deana Haggag, who spoke with passion about the power of art — but also how powerless we are to face today’s challenges in America and across borders without it.

• Tohono O’odham Nation Poet and MacArthur Fellow Ofelia Zepeda, who read a selection of her poems, including “In the Midst of Songs,” a sonorous tribute to the songs of indigenous peoples and the land that inspired them.

• Award-winning poet and ASU Assistant Professor of English Solmaz Sharif, who also read a selection of her poems, including the searing “Drone,” about the stark realities of life and death in a war-torn country.

• MacArthur Fellow and author of “Lost Children ArchiveValeria Luiselli and White Mountain Apache musician and National Artists Fellow Laura Ortman, who took the stage together in an impromptu collaborative performance in which Luiselli read excerpts of an untitled work in progress about the history of violence against women and the land in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, intermittently punctuated and finally concluded by Ortman’s unorthodox instrumentals.

four women sitting and talking on a stage with a photo of cacti in the background

From left: ASU Associate Professor of English and Director of the Center for Imagination in the Borderlands Natalie Diaz; Tohono O’odham Nation Poet and MacArthur Fellow Ofelia Zepeda; President and CEO of United States Artists Deana Haggag; and MacArthur Fellow and author of “Lost Children Archive” Valeria Luiselli. Photo by Meg Potter/ASU Now

A brief interlude between Sharif and the joint performance of Luiselli and Ortman included remarks from ASU Dean of Humanities Jeffrey Cohen, who acknowledged that there is a lot of work to be done in the humanities.

“Too often in the past, humanities have functioned as a kind of country club, with all the exclusivity that entails,” Cohen said, “letting some people know they might be ‘more comfortable’ somewhere else. We need to abandon that model.”

The interlude also included a discussion between Diaz, Zepeda, Haggag and Luiselli on what imagination means — and what lands, stories and people inhabit it — in the borderlands.

“We tend to focus on what’s terrible about imagination when thinking of borderlands,” Diaz said. “Imagination can be a very terrible place … those fences ... it’s an incredible waste of the imagination.”

Her discussion with Zepeda, Haggag and Luiselli explored what might be possible if we were to imagine differently.

“For centuries, we have all lived in very hierarchical institutions, all of them imagined by men,” Luiselli said. “Churches, universities … congresses. And there’s a very vertical relationship of power in those imagined structures, and I think that the way I am trying to re-understand my work and everyday life is precisely against that idea … and in finding more fluid and horizontal ways of reimagining how we constellate, how we discuss, how we think in communities and, therefore, how we produce whatever it is that we produce.”

The launch event itself seemed a meta confirmation of Luiselli’s sentiments.

“There is a way of Mojave thinking where we say, ‘It’s been dreamed,’” Diaz said. “It doesn’t mean you fell asleep and a vision came to you. It means there are things set in motion that we have yet to arrive at. … This idea of collaboration is one of the ways we’re trying to arrive there.”

Other ways the center plans to work toward arriving at its goals remain to be seen. However, Diaz feels its location makes it uniquely suited to doing so.

“Arizona is a crucible for the many questions we find ourselves asking locally, nationally and throughout the world,” she said. “Arizona and ASU are unique spaces with incredible capacities to broaden these conversations because Arizona is a place of tension that necessitates the kind of thought capable of influencing and catalyzing the futures we believe we deserve. At ASU in particular, we understand that our future is now.”

Top photo: White Mountain Apache musician and National Artists Fellow Laura Ortman performs in the Katzin Concert Hall on ASU's Tempe campus during the launch of the Center for Imagination in the Borderlands on Thursday. Photo by Meg Potter/ASU Now

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Harvesting indigenous knowledge on food and agriculture

January 17, 2020

ASU’s Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems to co-sponsor Food Tank Summit at SkySong on Jan. 22

A food summit co-sponsored by Arizona State University is bringing indigenous voices to the forefront of a conversation about transforming our food system.

More than 20 speakers — almost all of them Native American or Native Hawaiian — will discuss a wide variety of topics surrounding food, including biodiversity, food sovereignty, food resilience, policies and property rights.

The inaugural Food Tank Summit will take place the evening of Jan. 22 at ASU SkySong. This year’s summit, “The Wisdom of Indigenous Foodways,” will focus on the wisdom of traditional knowledge systems and what can be learned from the thousands of Native American farmers and ranchers in the U.S. 

The summit is a collaboration between Food Tank, the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at ASU and the Sustainable Community Food Systems Program at the University of Hawaii, West Oahu.

Kathleen Merrigan, executive director of the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems and the Kelly and Brian Swette Professor of Sustainable Food Systems in the School of Sustainability, spoke with ASU Now about the upcoming food summit.

Woman in business suit

Kathleen Merrigan

Question: What inspired the Swette Center to host this event?

Answer: There is increasing recognition among sustainable agriculture advocates that we have paid too little attention to issues of food justice and racial equity. As we build the agenda of the new Swette Center, the opportunity to do something about this is very much on my mind. Add to that, I’ve just moved to Arizona, where 27.1% of the land is tribal and, like most people reading this, I live in Maricopa County, which has the largest Native American population of all counties in the country.

Among the many things the Swette Center does is convene people to elevate discussion of critical issues. Food sovereignty, which people define as the right to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced by self-governing communities, is an important topic in Indian Country and should be an important topic for us all. Every year, I become more convinced that if we are to meet the challenges of extreme climate change and transform food systems so that they are resilient and equitable, we must listen to indigenous communities, stand with them and include them in decision-making on land that they have sustained for thousands of years. 

Yet in our rush to “Silicon Valley” our food system, we have overlooked the urgency to better understand, honor, safeguard, preserve and transmit traditional knowledge. I suspect that in the United States, more money was poured into the MIT food computer, which reportedly turned out to be a hoax, than was invested in preservation of landraces curated by Native peoples and understanding indigenous protocols against the overharvesting of species.

Q: Food insecurity among Native Americans is a pressing issue. Will the summit dive into such issues as obesity, food deserts and access to food?

A: Earlier this fall, I participated in an important meeting on these topics convened by the Arizona Department of Agriculture in partnership with the Tonto Apache up north in Payson. The Swette Center will be engaged in these issues, but this particular summit has a different focus. Our goal is to shine light on stories that demonstrate the wisdom of traditional knowledge systems. There are 58,000 Native American farmers and ranchers in the U.S. who together produced more than $2 billion in revenue last year. What can be learned from them? The Native Farm Bill Coalition took Capitol Hill by storm in 2018 and made big gains in the Farm Bill. Yet legal and institutional impediments to success in Indian Country and in Hawaii remain, and we want to identify pathways for action.

Q: You have two celebrity chefs speaking. How can chefs help change how people think about food and how they eat?

A: I’ve worked with many famous chefs during my career and have seen how they can elevate food issues through the power of their craft. Take the example of Chef José Andrés and his efforts to feed people in Puerto Rico after the hurricane. His work shed light on the inadequacies of federal emergency disaster relief, and FEMA is amending some of its procedures as a result.

Our summit will feature Chef Mariah Gladstone of Indigikitchen and Chef Sean Sherman of the Sioux Chef, both indigenous chefs with great social power. By the way, I wrote an article with colleagues about the inadequacy of food aid in Puerto Rico post-Hurricane Maria. Guess how many people read our article versus those who watched José talk about the need for emergency food relief innovation during last year’s Oscar festivities? I think you get my point.  

Q: Is this event also tailored for students?

A: Absolutely! We want to look forward as well as back. Our program will conclude with two students, one from ASU and one from University of Hawaii, providing visions for the future. We really want students to come and so to answer your question more logistically, I do want people to know that we have Ollie the Trolley looping between the Tempe campus and the event, which takes place at SkySong. And for those students who negotiate with their professors to make attendance at the event an extra-credit assignment, we will have a sign-in desk to authenticate attendance.

Q: Is this just talk about food, or will there actually be some there to taste?

A: We are excited to feature tastings of local indigenous foods at our reception following the formal program. Twila Cassadore (San Carlos Apache) will be offering wild harvested foods that she and her family have harvested as well as foods they grow on the reservation. Twila will be serving blue corn mush with prickly pear and pumpkin seeds and a desert cactus salsa that includes barrel cactus fruit and seeds, nopales pads and desert onions.

From Desert Rain Café and Ajo Farmers Market and Café, Terrol Dew Johnson (Tohono O’odham), Sterling Johnson (Tohono O’odham) and Nina Sajovec will be serving foods that have been wild harvested by Tohono O’odham tribal members and grown at Alexander Pancho Memorial Farm, a dryland farm located on the Tohono O’odham reservation. Foods for these cafes are also sourced through the beginning farmer training program by the Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture as well as other Akimel O’odham farmers and foragers. Among the tastings that will be offered will be tepary beans, Tohono O’odham corn and squash. Tepary beans are a common staple food for tribes of the Southwest and are featured in the Tohono O’odham creation story. Tepary beans carry a cultural significance as well as an important source of nutrition with high levels of protein and fiber. Adapted to the extreme desert sun and heat, tepary beans also thrive in the alkaline soils. The Tohono O’odham corn (gai:wsa) is a 60-day variety that is harvested in the milky stage and roasted over mesquite coals and dried in the sun. As a dessert, Tohono O’odham Squash (ha:l) cake will be topped with a prickly pear whipped cream.

Reporter , ASU Now


Dancing Earth brings technology and tradition to ASU Gammage

January 17, 2020

Tradition meets the future in an upcoming show in ASU Gammage’s “Beyond” series.

Dancing Earth presents “Between Underground and Skyworld,” a multimedia dance and theater performance inspired by the relationship between indigenous practices and the future of the environment.  Photo taken by James A. for Dancing Earth in 2019. Download Full Image

MORE: Purchase tickets

Rulan Tangen, artistic founding director of Dancing Earth, said she was inspired by emerging technology and how intertribal traditions influence the future of our ecosystem.

“To really understand and care about the life force that is in every living being is certainly omnipresent in indigenous philosophies to reimagine that connection,” she said.

“Between Underground and Skyworld” transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary. With costumes from thrift stores and upcycled set designs, the show brings the Earth to the theater.

“It’s not about extravagance, it’s about looking at what you know is already there and how we can create something from that,” Tangen said. “And I think that is a beautiful way of life.”

Onstage, the performers become “eco-superheroes,” a term Tangen used to define the dancers’ abilities and transformation into their characters.

“I’m hoping this will ignite a lot of inspiration about people reimagining the future,” Tangen said.

Dancing Earth will be lighting up the ASU Gammage stage Jan. 25. “Between Underground and Skyworld” begins at 7 p.m., but events begin much earlier — and not on the stage.

A participatory festival celebrating the opening groundwork and people of the land will commence at 4 p.m. The festival will feature an eco fashion show, Native art market booths, Native American food trucks, performance art and more.

Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy, senior adviser to the president and director of the Center for Indian Education, is helping to bring new ideas to the preshow festivities. 

“This isn't just what's happening on the stage — it's about what happens when you park your car and you get out of it and you begin to walk toward ASU Gammage,” Brayboy said.

Tangen said it is an indigenous principle to ask permission to use the land before hosting any event, and the opening groundwork will do just that.

“People will be walking into an immersive experience that has committed people talking about their vision for the future,” Tangen said.

Amongst the art for the opening groundwork will be an original structure from architect Wanda Dalla Costa, joint professor for the School of Design and Del E. Webb School of Construction.

The structure will stand more than 15 feet tall and will honor the local indigenous culture in Arizona. Dalla Costa said it is aiming to support Tangen’s idea of indigenous-centric futurity.

The details of the structure and its hidden meanings add richness to the structure, Dalla Costa said. Some of the symbols on the structure include 22 markers connoting the 22 tribes in Arizona and solar LED lights to represent the style and ideals of the future. 

“We are aiming for new expressions of indigeneity in our design work,” Dalla Costa said.

Overall, the piece will be a place for reflection and conversation. With benches surrounding the structure, Dalla Costa said she hopes it will be a space to connect with indigenous history and to share that history with nonindigenous people.

“When people think of indigeneity, they probably think of something more traditional, but we want to make it a very future-oriented piece,” Dalla Costa said. “Bringing in this technology sends the message that we are commingling our lifeways and our belief system with contemporary technology.”

Marketing assistant, ASU Gammage