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Crazy-contraption innovator among professors honored by White House

Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers goes to two at ASU.
Engineering professor uses Rube Goldberg devices to teach Navajo youth.
January 13, 2017

ASU's Shawn Jordan recognized with Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers for work with Navajo youth

You’ve got a candle to extinguish. You could blow it out, or you could flick a domino that clicks into a mouse trap, which slaps a board, knocking a bowling ball down a chute, where it rolls into a bucket, spilling water that douses a candle.

That latter series is a Rube Goldberg solution, and an ASU researcher has leveraged the concept to get Navajo middle schoolers interested in engineering.

For his ingenuity, 38-year-old Shawn Jordan, an assistant professor in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, has been honored by the White House as the winner of a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. He was one of two Fulton teachers so recognized recently, among about 100 educators across the nation.

“These innovators are working to help keep the United States on the cutting edge,” President Barack Obama said in a statement, announcing the award. He added that their work shows “that federal investments in science lead to advancements that expand our knowledge” and “contribute to our economy.”

Jordan’s curriculum teaches engineering design together with Navajo culture to show students opportunities in science, tech, engineering and math. It “has the potential to inspire thousands of Navajo students to pursue careers in engineering and have a positive impact on the Navajo Nation,” he said, adding that the award was a surprise that left him “both humbled and honored.”

It’s the latest for Jordan, who at one point held the Guinness World Record for the longest working Goldberg contraption, a 125-step masterpiece of chain reactions. He has appeared on “Modern Marvels” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and he worked on the PBS show “Design Squad.” 

His work could improve diversity in STEM fields. The National Science Foundation reported that only 0.6 percent of all students enrolled in undergrad engineering programs from 2000-2009, the latest numbers available, were American Indian.

“Navajo students are hands-on learners and have been doing this type work in their everyday lives, but didn’t realize it was engineering,” said Kalvin White, administrator for the Navajo Nation Department of Dine Education. “When they realize engineering can give them an opportunity to be creative while helping their community and family needs, they see it as a real benefit.”

Kory Hedman

Assistant professor Kory Hedman works to improve energy transmission in the power grid. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Meanwhile, 35-year-old Kory Hedman, another Fulton assistant professor, also received presidential recognition. Hedman works in electrical engineering and has been involved with the Power Systems Engineering Research Center, which focuses on integrating renewable energy into the power grid. 

“Transfer limits in the power grid can prevent the use of clean, renewable energy from remote locations,” Hedman said. “While building new transmission infrascructure is a possible solution, new transmission is expensive and often comes with a great pushback based on a 'not in my backyard' philosophy.”

Hedman and a team of researchers developed optimization models and algorithms that harness the flexibility in existing transmission hardware to re-route electrical power around transmission bottlenecks.

In 2015, PJM Interconnection LLC, an electric transmission system serving 13 states and the District of Columbia, announced they would seek proposals to develop and implement his technology, estimating a savings of at least $100 million a year.

“Recognition at this level speaks very highly of the talent within the Fulton Schools and the transformative ideas and impacts produced by our faculty,” Fulton Dean Kyle Squires said. “The PECASE awards for Kory and Shawn are an incredible validation of the quality of their scholarship and effectiveness at advancing their ideas in ways that create new knowledge and the translational impacts that ultimately improve not only the economy but our society at large and quality of life.”

Reporter , ASU Now


ASU alumnus becomes special agent in the FBI

January 5, 2017

From being a first-generation college student to catching a notorious bank robber featured on "America’s Most Wanted," Arizona State University alumnus Manuel J. Johnson leveraged his interpersonal skills to build a career.

“I’m really proud of my service in the FBI. It was a great career,” said Johnson, a member of Gila River Indian Community. “But I really feel like the accomplishments I’ve had in my life happened because I stood on the shoulders of those who have come before me and sacrificed before me.” Arizona State University alumnus Manuel J. Johnson In 1987, Arizona State University alumnus Manuel J. Johnson graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. Download Full Image

Born in Phoenix, Johnson was raised by his mother who inspired him to work hard and pursue a higher education. He said he always knew he would attend ASU, but his chosen field of study didn’t come so easily to him.

“Some students know exactly what they want to do when they get here; others it takes a while,” Johnson said. “I started in the business college, but as I took more courses, I didn’t have the same interest.” 

Johnson sought out an African-American studies class to draw parallels between the plight of African-Americans and his own experience as an American Indian. The course was taught by professor and chair of sociology A. Wade Smith, who worked tirelessly to improve race relations on the ASU campus.

“When I was here, there weren’t many minority professors,” Johnson said. “I identified with him because he was a minority … and always had time for me. I remember he suggested I get a degree in sociology." 

In 1987, Johnson graduated from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. He started working for the Gila River Indian Community in the social services department. Then he worked for the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, an organization representing most of the tribes in the state. Johnson said dealing with law enforcement in his position piqued his interest in the FBI.

In 1990, Johnson applied to the FBI, training at the FBI Academy the following year. His first indoctrination to the bureau was as a special agent assigned to the Salt Lake City Division in the small town of Vernal, Utah. He handled federal criminal violations on the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation.

Johnson transferred to the Los Angeles Division as part of a resident agency in West Covina, California. He was assigned to the violent-crimes squad and pursued a range of criminal investigations including bank robberies, kidnappings, extortions and fugitive matters.

“Los Angeles was a good experience for an agent because it’s a big city,” Johnson said. “I remember getting a lead in our office about the Oklahoma City bombing. We got a DMV photo of this individual who looked like the composite drawing of suspect John Doe No. 2. It turns out it wasn’t him, but you never know in those situations.”

After Los Angeles, Johnson was transferred to Flagstaff, Arizona. He was assigned to the Navajo and Hopi reservations, where he handled violent crimes such as homicides, child abuse and assault cases.

“When you work with Native American communities, you really have to build trust,” Johnson said. “You use your people skills a lot. My understanding and educational background in sociology came in handy as I worked in various communities as a special agent.”

Johnson retired from the FBI in 2014 and went back to the Gila River Indian Community. Currently, he works in the Executive Office as the intergovernmental liaison where he fosters and maintains government-to-government relationships at all levels on behalf of the community.

“When I came back to Gila River, all I wanted to do was fit in, work with my community and help,” Johnson said. “If I can influence young people in some way to find their passion in life, then I feel like I made things a little better for somebody, for others, for the community.”

Amanda Stoneman

Science Writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


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ASU construction major builds and improves on career

42-year-old Navajo Nation member earns ASU master's in construction management.
December 12, 2016

Army vet Darrell Stanley returns to school, will graduate with master's of science in construction management

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2016 commencement. See more graduates here.

ASU student Darrell Stanley knew in his early 20s that he wouldn't always be able to rely on his body for a steady paycheck.

After an honorable discharge from the Army, Stanley became a certified refrigerator repairman in 1996. Several co-workers told him welcome aboard, but to also start looking for another job.

“They told me about their back problems and physical ailments as they got older, and that I should use my GI Bill to get a college degree,” Stanley said. “It took 18 years, but I eventually got the message.”

The 42-year-old member of the Navajo Nation received his bachelor’s degree in construction management from Arizona State University's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering in 2011. Tribal leaders back home in Kayenta, Arizona, took note of his 3.3 GPA, and made him an offer.

“They said they’d pay for my education if I went back to school to get my master's, so I took advantage of it,” said Stanley, who works as a construction manager for the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community.

Stanley has lived up to his end of the agreement and this week graduated with a master's of science in construction management.

He says he’s thankful to ASU for teaching him “the realistic side of construction, what’s going on now and what will happen in the future.”

Stanley also answered a few questions about his experience at ASU.

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

Answer: I had been in the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) trade for 18 years and as I got older my perspective changed. My days of climbing roofs and crawling into attics became challenging. This was when I decided to go back to school to pursue a professional career in construction management.

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

A: I understand that education is a key component to be a leader in construction management. Knowing that employers seek managers who can solve problematic issues by innovation and experience. The ASU Del E. Webb School of Construction Master’s Program was my answer to widen my awareness and perspective.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I am aware that the construction industry is moving in a new direction and new advance cutting-edge technology has innovated construction methods. It brought better decision making, which resulted in projects becoming smarter. This trend has made construction faster, lower cost for the owner and has tremendously improved on building sustainability and functionality. ASU is the school to prepare me.

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

A: Study now and sleep later.

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

A: I had a lot of interesting discussions and collaborated with a lot students at the College Avenue Commons atrium. I consider this to be my favorite place.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am the father of three children. I plan to continue to guide my children to earn their degree as well, and they are all enrolled at Mesa Community College. I also plan to support my wife as she will be pursuing her master’s degree in the spring of 2017.

Also, I intend to fulfill my time mastering the processes and procedure of construction. I have a passion for building image modeling and learning how to effectively incorporate it into construction. I plan to spend my time collaborating and interacting with companies that have mastered the use of BIM.

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

A: To continuously find products or materials that can be reused repeatedly instead of using it once and dispose of it. For example, plastic grocery bags have been recycled and re-engineered into weather-resistant 2-by-4’s. 

Top photo: Darrell Stanley completed his master's of science in construction management while both working full time and taking a full course load. He stands outside Wells Fargo Arena shortly before the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering convocation, Dec. 13. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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Native 101: ASU students, faculty bust stereotypes

Students, faculty share experiences in video honoring Native Heritage Month.
November 29, 2016

American Indian Sun Devils answer questions they hear most often when dealing with non-Natives in mainstream settings

It can be tough to be a Native American in mainstream society.

It’s true for students away from their home communities for the first time. They’re underrepresented and surrounded by people who aren’t familiar with their traditions, culture or history.

And it’s true for “urban Indians,” an increasing population of Native people who live in cities, who often report feeling unseen or stereotyped.   

“This notion of visibility and invisibility is important,” said Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy, President’s Professor, director of the Center for Indian Education and ASU’s special adviser to the president on American Indian Affairs. “Sometimes invisibility comes in the form of unfounded and unsubstantiated myths.”

To help recognize the experiences of the more than 2,600 Indigenous students at ASU — and to honor the close of Native American Heritage Month — a group of American Indian students and faculty gathered to answer the questions and bust the stereotypes they face most often when interacting with non-Natives.

Video produced and edited by Deanna Dent, ASU Now

“People may say, ‘Oh, all Natives live like this.’ But, we are like anyone else: There is both remarkable variability in our experiences and some shared experiences. In the end, stereotypes hurt everyone.”

Oftentimes, Native people in mainstream settings find themselves functioning as representatives for a diverse population of more than 5 million people from more than 560 distinct tribes across the U.S.

Megan Tom, a fourth-year Navajo student from Cameron, Arizona, described it as an unfair burden, saying during a recent interview that “it’s exhausting giving Native 101 to everyone.”

The students and faculty share some of the more common questions they’re asked by non-Natives in an effort to create connections and understanding.

“As much as any other research intensive campus in the U.S., ASU is committed to helping everyone appreciate the unique, important modern-day experiences of Native peoples in Arizona, the U.S. and the world,” Brayboy said. “This video continues this vital conversation and situates ASU as a world-class educational institution that honors its place and the Native peoples of Arizona.”

Reporter , ASU Now


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Tribal Nations Tour encourages college pursuit

Nearly 50 ASU students, faculty and staff take trip as part of outreach program
Tribal Nations Tour helps encourage Native youth to pursue college degrees
November 17, 2016

Team of ASU students, faculty and staff travels to Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation to encourage youth, perform community service

A team of ASU students, faculty and staff travelled recently to the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation to give one-on-one attention to young people and to encourage them to seek a college education.

Nearly 50 students, athletes and staffers visited the reservation this as part of an annual outreach program called the Tribal Nations Tour, which brings ASU to schools with high populations of American Indian students throughout the state. Each year, the tour presents several topics related to wellness, college readiness, career preparation and the pursuit of academic degrees.

They also offered up a day of community service, performing cleanup and painting duties in preparation for Orme Dam Victory Days celebration, which starts Friday and runs through the weekend.

“It’s important to bring educational awareness to Native communities and be able to say, ‘This is where you could be, and this is how you can help your tribe to evolve and prosper in the future,’” said Zach Doka, a junior at Arizona State University who is involved in the Tribal Nations Tour.

Doka grew up on the Fort McDowell Reservation and says he was blessed with good parents who stressed education, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t aware of obstacles facing Native youth.

“Our young people face a lot of hurdles,” Doka said. “Loss of our language, and culture is dwindling because of outside influences. It’s important that ASU came here today to show they care.”

University students took a tour of the reservation to learn about traditional and contemporary Yavapai culture, history, activism, gaming issues, as well as a brief overview of the Orme Dam controversy that locked the nation in a battle with the U.S. government 40 years ago.

The proposed dam would have flooded a large portion of the reservation and forced tribe members to relocate. The tribe defeated dam proponents in November 1981, and this weekend they will celebrate 35 years of social and economic gains.

Annabell Bowen, director for the Office of the President on American Indian Initiatives, said the purpose of the trip was twofold — to show support to all of Arizona’s 22 tribal nations, and to repay a kindness to Fort McDowell.

“This is a way to give back to the community for recognizing their contribution and what they have given to ASU,” Bowen said.

ASU’s Wassaja Scholarship is part of a $1 million gift that was donated from the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation. This scholarship is designed to support ASU American Indian students, and it ranges from $500 to $800 per student per semester.

Bowen said the tour first started in 2010 and has visited all of Arizona’s federally recognized tribal nations. She said these trips have paid big dividends to the communities and the university.

"I have bumped into many students on campus who have told me, 'I remember when you came to my high school, and you're the reason we're here,'" Bowen said. "That's an example of how the Tribal Nations Tour has impacted and inspired students in the past."

Amber Poleviyuma was one of the students on the tour.

“Our Native communities made us who we are and made it possible for us to be here today,” said Poleviyuma, a nursing major. “I also enjoy learning the history of other tribes and the issues they still face today.”

ASU has one of the highest American Indian populations in the nation with more than 2,000 students and is a leading university in the country for awarding graduate degrees to Native students.

The opportunity to engage with the Native American community, using ASU athletes as role models and allowing them to gain a cultural perspective, is why ASU Associate Athletic Director William Kennedy has participated in the Tribal Nations tour since it began in 2010.

"A lot of what we do involves elementary school children, and regardless of ethnicity, they certainly look up to and will listen to athletes," said Kennedy, who brought the entire ASU lacrosse team and ASU basketball player Vitaliy Shibel.

Shibel, who is a native of the Ukraine, said it was his first time on a reservation. He was fascinated by the Yavapai way of life and culture.

“Here people live as one community, and everybody in the Ukraine is all for themselves,” Shibel said. “They are not selfish and care for each other.”

Care was the one word that resonated most with 15-year-old tribal member Amanda Vanegas, who is a sophomore at Fountain Hills High School.

"I'm so happy everyone came today because it really inspires me," Vanegas said. "Hearing other Natives talk about their backstories and their struggles helps me feel more confident in myself. If they can make it, so can I."

Last year the tour visited the Navajo, Hopi, Yavapai, White Mountains Apache, San Carlos and Tohono O'odham nations. Bowen said next year they plan to expand their outreach outside Arizona in states such as California, New Mexico and South Dakota.

"Our goal is to maintain our relationships and continue outreach to students," Bowen said.


Top photo: Shaandiin Parrish, an ASU senior majoring in political science, talks to another student at the Fort McDowell Reservation on Nov. 5. Parrish was crowned Miss Indian Arizona in October and is part of the outreach effort to Arizona’s 22 Indian tribes. Photo by Anya Magnuson/ASU Now

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The Earth's terrain through the eyes of Native people

ASU professor to speak about "Place, Culture, and Geoscience."
Ethnogeology seeks to include indigenous beliefs in research.
November 16, 2016

ASU professor and leading expert on ethnogeology to talk about different cultures' interactions with homelands

When people look at a landmark like a peak, they may see a few things. A mountain, first of all. Maybe some history to go with it, like a Civil War battle once being fought at its foot. Perhaps a personal aspect, like usually stopping there for a cone.

Native people see another dimension entirely. They see all those things, and more: religion, myth and beliefs, physically manifested in stone and sand.

There are places on the Navajo nation — certain mountains, dune fields, canyons, high passes between cliffs — where ancient heroes fought monsters.

Studying how different cultures understand their physical homelands is a new specialty called ethnogeology, which combines geology, geography and anthropology.

Arizona State University’s Steve Semken, an associate professor of geoscience education and geological sciences in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, will lecture about ethnogeology Thursday night in a talk called “Place, Culture, and Geoscience.”

Semken is the country’s leading expert on the topic. He became intrigued with the subject when he taught geology for 15 years at the Navajo tribal Dine College's branch in Shiprock, New Mexico. When he took students on geologic field trips, he noticed they had different names for places than what was on maps.

He began participatory research with the help of Navajo partners. He now studies human interactions with and knowledge of the Earth.

Asked if he could give specific examples of landmarks that feature prominently in Navajo mythos, he declined.

“I can’t talk about those places because I don’t know if the snow has fallen yet or not,” he said. “Those stories are only told when the snow has fallen.”

Navajo believe when the snow has fallen, the landmarks are asleep and they can’t be offended.

Examples that can be illustrated include the Oracle of Delphi in Greece. Eyewitnesses described priestesses inhaling vapors from a fault in the floor of their chamber. In the 1990s and early 2000s, researchers discovered the original fault in the chamber floor, and evidence that ethylene gas — a hallucinogenic hydrocarbon — was present in nearby springs.

In the Pacific, radiocarbon dating of scorched vegetation beneath lava sheets corresponds to historical dates of battles between the fire god Pele and other deities.

James Riding In is the interim director of American Indian Studies at ASU.

“In American Indian studies we have long reflected the views of Indian people that place is central to identity,” Riding In said. “I think what that shows is that in some instances Indian beliefs are impacting the way the research is being done.”

Semken said his field shows indigenous people that geology is part of them.

“I’m trying to help the students understand they’ve always had a place in this science,” said Semken, who holds a certificate in the Dine Philosophy of Education from Dine College. “Their culture has important knowledge, and they can bring that to the table and it will motivate them to study and learn.”

New Discoveries Lecture Series: 'Place, Culture and Geoscience'

When: 7:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17.

Where: Marston Exploration Theater in the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV, Tempe campus.

Admission: Free, but registration is kindly requested for planning purposes.

Details: More information, including parking, can be found at ASU Events.

Top photo of Monument Valley by Carol M. Highsmith

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


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ASU powwow to celebrate Native veterans

Public invited to share in Native culture during annual Veterans Day powwow.
November 9, 2016

Annual Veterans Day tradition features Native drummers, singers, dancers, artists and food

It’s hard to miss evidence of Indian history and culture in metro Phoenix: Valley residents drive down Apache Boulevard, hike past Hohokam petroglyphs on A Mountain and enjoy fry bread at fairs and festivals.

Yet, the influence often goes unnoticed.

An ASU event that honors military veterans, however, is rapidly growing a reputation as an opportunity to recognize the contributions of Native Americans through ceremony, celebration and face-to-face interactions. On Saturday, Nov. 12, ASU West will host the 16th annual Veterans Day Weekend Traditional Pow Wow, an all-day gathering, free and open to the public, featuring Native drummers, singers, dancers, artists and food.

This year’s theme is “A Celebration of Native Veterans,” but organizers say all vets are welcome to take part and will be honored in a special evening ceremony. 

Event planner Jacob Meders says the powwow represents a chance for people to explore the history that led to the Apache Boulevard name, ask about the petroglyphs or learn the story behind fry bread.

“We have so many misunderstandings of what Native culture is and who Native people are, and (at the powwow) there’s such a wide range of Native people all in one place, and they’re willing to hang out and talk and share,” said Meders, assistant professor in the School of Humanities, Arts and Cultural StudiesThe School of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies is part of the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences..

Event chairman Dennis Eagleman agrees, saying he recognized the need for such connections about 10 years ago leading an immersion tour for West campus’ Native American Student Organization. He had been taking non-Native students on a trip through some of the more than 20 reservations in Arizona when he realized just how uninformed much of the general public could be.  

“There were people who had lived in Phoenix their whole life saying, ‘We’ve never been to a reservation, are we allowed?’” he recalled with a chuckle. (The answer: Yes.)

The ASU powwow started as a way to honor a Native service member who was being deployed to Iraq, and it has grown into an annual celebration celebrating veterans and Indian culture.

The term powwow has become a catchall for the celebrations of North American indigenous people. Throughout history — across various tribes and names — such events have always been about honoring aspects of Native culture. And much like certain songs, stories and foods, the concept of the “warrior society” has long been deeply engrained in Native communities, and therefore celebrated at such gatherings.

Eagleman, a member of the Fort Peck Sioux Tribe, discussed the context, saying: “Basically, everybody was a veteran. You had wars, and everybody fought. … It’s like in ‘Dances with Wolves’ when one character was trying to explain to another that everybody’s a warrior. It’s not like there’s one certain group.”

Today, Native Americans have the highest number of service members per capita of any ethnic group in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

Though neither Eagleman nor Meders are veterans, they both count vets among their family members. Eagleman’s father was a member of the U.S. Navy, and Meders’ father, grandfathers and uncles served in various branches.

Meders, of the Mechoopda Tribe, jokes that he was granted a pass on the military lifestyle and instead graduated from ASU in 2011 with a master’s in printmaking. When he’s not teaching at West campus, he runs a studio in downtown Phoenix, Warbird Press. One of his favorite things about the powwow is the chance to share Native art. 

“Native people are really truly original interdisciplinary artists,” he said. “Storytellers, dancers, singers, visual artists. That’s always been part of who we are. There’s so many renaissance Native people” in professions such as law who also “do beading, or storytelling, or dancing. They do it all.”

Both Eagleman and Meders hope the public will take advantage of the opportunity to learn and engage.

“If somebody non-Native were to go to the powwow and start asking questions, some of the [Native] people will talk your head off,” said Eagleman, enthused.

“You have to start somewhere,” said Meders, “and a powwow is probably the most laid-back, easiest way to engage. … We’re not asking people to feel guilty about their ancestors. But we are asking them to truly understand the true history of this country.”

For information, including parking and a complete schedule of events, go to:

Emma Greguska

Reporter , ASU Now

(480) 965-9657

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ASU Law students work to ensure Native votes count

Dozens of initiative volunteers come from ASU, community.
Project volunteers will work at polling places and on telephone hotlines.
November 7, 2016

Native Vote Election Protection Project aims to help American Indians navigate problems such as intimidation on Election Day

ASU Law student Allyson Von Seggern said she felt like a rookie two years ago working a primary election.

She had recently moved from small-town Nebraska to the Phoenix area for law school. Eager to earn extra credit, she signed on to help with an ASU Indian Legal Clinic voter initiative. But she had no idea what to expect: “It was one of the most painful days of my life,” she said.

Today, thanks in part to hundreds of hours of experience with the clinic, she’s ready to lead a group of about 80 volunteers for the clinic’s Native Vote Election Protection Project, an outreach effort that helps American Indians navigate problems on Election Day.

“We’re out to make every vote count,” Von Seggern said.

Composed of ASU students and dozens of community members, the initiative aims to ensure that Native Americans exercise their right to vote in federal and state elections. The volunteers have been trained to be ready to help with a range of issues, including voter intimidation.

ASU Law professor Patty Ferguson-Bonhee runs the Indian Legal Clinic in the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, located at the Downtown Phoenix campus. She started Native Vote in response to a 2004 Arizona voter ID law.

Ferguson-Bonhee said that particular law and subsequent others don’t take into account the negative effects on Native Americans and that they often lead to canceled votes, confusion and disenfranchisement.

“Native Americans like to exercise their right to vote,” Ferguson-Bonhee said. “In the old days it was obvious why these laws were passed. These days the reasons are different, but it’s still the same result.”

Ferguson-Bonhee said Arizona has a bad track record regarding elections. According to her project’s website, Native Americans weren’t allowed to vote until 1948, when the Arizona Supreme Court overturned a long-standing ban on Indian voting. Natives continued to be excluded until 1970 through so-called literacy tests.

Since then, she said, many Native people in Arizona have continued to experience voting difficulties.

“It doesn’t seem like in this day and age there are people out there trying to prevent Native American from voting, but there are,” said Kris Beecher, a first-year law student who is enrolled in ASU’s Indian Legal Program.

Beecher, who is Navajo, worked in the 2014 election. He said he saw many Native voters get disqualified due to newly instituted laws and a lack of knowledge from poll workers. He also noticed something else.

“Many of the poll workers are not Native Americans, and they were on Native American soil and disqualifying potential voters,” he said.

The initiative includes volunteers dispersing to 12 polling sites around the state and others working a telephone hotline.  

Kyra Climbingbear, a first-year law student from Piscataway, New Jersey, said she volunteered because “where I’m from, not many people vote.”

“Arizona has a large indigenous population, and they seem more unified here,” Climbingbear said. “They seem to understand that Native lives matter … you’re only as loud as your voice.”

Ferguson-Bonhee said Natives will face many issues on Election Day, which could include providing acceptable forms of identification, problems with confusing ballot language, being placed on a permanent early-voting list (which she said some counties do), being sent to incorrect polling locations, and legal and procedural differences between tribal and state elections.

“Once you secure a right, it’s great, but there’s roadblocks all around,” Ferguson-Bonhee said. “Our job on Election Day is to clear the roadblocks.”

Top photo: Director of the Legal Indian Clinic Patty Ferguson-Bohnee touches base with her students during an orientation for the Native Vote Initiative at ASU's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law on Nov. 1. The initiative was organized by the Indian Legal Clinic and led by third-year ASU Law students. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU Now


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ASU students celebrate Native American Heritage Month this November.
October 31, 2016

ASU student groups create series of events throughout November for Native American Heritage Month

ASU English lit and public policy major Megan Tom says it can be tough for Native Americans living away from their home communities for the first time.

Underrepresentation and pervasive stereotypes mean that many in mainstream society carry misguided notions of what it means to be an American Indian today, making students such as herself representatives for a population of more than 5 million people from more than 560 distinct tribes across the U.S.

“It’s exhausting giving Native 101 to everyone,” the fourth-year Navajo student from Cameron, Arizona, said.

To ease that individual burden, build connections and break down stereotypes, Tom, president of ASU’s American Indian Council, and other indigenous student groups at Arizona State University have created a series of events for Native American Heritage Month.

November represents an opportunity, Tom said, to share the “perspective from a larger community.”

The Nov. 1 kickoff celebration at the Memorial Union on the Tempe Campus starts at 11:30 a.m. and will include frybread, cultural performances and information on American Indian organizations.

Next week, “Water is Life #NoDAPL” will address the ongoing protest at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota. The Standing Rock Souix tribe and their supporters are lining up to block the 1,000-mile Dakota Access Pipeline. Developers say the pipeline will boost the economy and make the U.S. less beholden to foreign countries. Protesters say it cuts through sovereign territory and could contaminate the area’s drinking water.

The Nov. 8 eventHosted by the American Indian Science Engineering Society, Construction In Indian Country Student Organization, and American Indian Council. will run from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and feature Native students and pipeline protesters who can explain their perspective to attendees.

Students stand in front of building

ASU students showing their support for Standing Rock protesters.

Tom said it’s especially important because some young people dressed up as pipeline protesters for Halloween.

“This is a fight for water, a basic human necessity,” she said, adding that it’s “frustrating” that people would make a joke of it. “It shows where we are in the nation’s perspective of Native people.”

“Changing the Way We See Native America: Dismantling Native American Stereotypes,” meanwhile, will feature photography from the Project 562, led by Matika Wilbur, of the Swinomish and Tulalip Tribe in Washington state.

The Nov. 22 eventHosted by the Womyn’s Coalition, Rainbow Coalition and American Indian Council. will start at 6 p.m. on ASU’s Polytechnic campus. Wilbur said the project’s name comes from the number of federally recognized tribes in the U.S. when she started. There are now 566 recognized tribes. She is working to photograph everyday, modern Native people on tribal lands to break down longstanding stereotypes.

“It’s quite obvious that the popular understanding of a Native American is that of a noble savage or spiritual being,” Wilbur said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

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Photographer and social documentarian Matika Wilbur.

ASU interdisciplinary studies major Emerald Byakeddy said such work is important because “a lot of people don’t understand that” American Indians “are not one-dimensional.”

Sometimes people “can’t understand until they’ve been in your skin,” the Navajo senior from Tuba City, Arizona, said.

“Deconstructing Stereotypes and Abolishing the R-word: A Discussion on the Use of Sports Masots” will get into the problems many Native people see with the images and names associated with the Cleveland Major League Baseball franchise and the Washington, D.C., professional football team.

The Nov. 28 eventHosted by ASU American Indian Studies Department. will start at 6 p.m. at the Memorial Union on the Tempe campus.   

“The perception of Native Americans is not even of a vanishing race but a vanished race, even in Arizona where school kids continue to say things like, ‘I thought all Indians were dead,’” said Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy, President’s Professor, director of the Center of Indian Education and ASU’s special adviser to the president on American Indian Affairs. “These perceptions and stereotypes still exist and persist, and it’s complicated.”

More than 2,600 Native American students attend ASU, which recently saw its largest graduating class of over 360 in May.

Brayboy said the mascot conversation “is pretty timely” because of Cleveland’s place in the World Series. “If you look at the caricature of what Chief Wahoo looks like what you see is a caricature — and it’s a pretty hateful one, from where I sit — but it locates us in a past moment.”

“We need to expose our kids,” Brayboy said, “to modern versions of Native people. This is exactly what our students do — they represent the very best of the present and future selves of Native Nations.”

Other events include:

• Zuni Pueblo: Culture, History, Language & Art with Matthew Yatsayte, 11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m., Nov. 4, Discovery Hall 313, Tempe campus

• 16th Annual Veterans Day Weekend Traditional Pow Wow, 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Nov. 12, Fletcher Library Lawn, West campus

• Celebrating Native Americans in the Law: Judge Diana Humetewa, 12:15 p.m.–1:15 p.m., Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Downtown Phoenix campus

• One Word Indian Two Communities, 5–8 p.m., Nov. 17, Sparky’s Den, ASU Memorial Union, Tempe campus

• 22nd Annual Josiah N. Moore Memorial Scholarship Benefit Dinner, 6–9 p.m., Nov. 19, Carson Ballroom, Old Main, Tempe campus

For a full listing of scheduled events, go here.

Top image: Chief Bill James of the Lummi Nation at a sacred site in the northwest corner of Washington State. Photo taken by Matika Wilbur for Project 562.

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ASU alum fashions a new path

ASU alumnus has designs on the fashion world — and on @PHXFashionWeek.
October 10, 2016

Mechanical engineer finds inspiration in design, Native American culture; will show his collection at Phoenix Fashion Week

There’s really not a polite way to say this — Loren Aragon’s house is a mess.

Not far from the entrance there are several racks of handmade garments, raw fabrics and dress forms. Sewing machines, pattern paper, thread, pincushions, measuring devices, cutting tools and two draft tables dominate what was once the dining and living areas. 

His Maricopa residence has been this way for the past year.

That’s about the time he decided to turn his fashion-design hobby into a full-time vocation.

Which might come as a surprise: The Arizona State University alumnus received his degree in mechanical engineering in 2004, but the call of the creative drew him back to the arts.

“My study and practice as a mechanical engineer further fuels my artistic passion and abilities as an artist,” said Aragon, who is from the Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico. Sixty miles west of Albuquerque, the pueblo is known for its pottery and long ancestral line of artists.

“My work is a result of a combination of my artistic vision and technological discipline.”

In June, Aragon was one of 15 artists selected by Phoenix Fashion Week to attend its Emerging Designer Bootcamp. Over a four-month period, he learned the ins and outs of the fashion business, including branding, messaging, margins, profits, team building and public relations.

“We have about 40 different things we teach them in those four months, and then they are tested in real time,” said Brian Hill, executive director of Phoenix Fashion Week. “Loren has great designs, which is the baseline for everything.”

This week Aragon will unveil his spring/summer 2017 collection at the Talking Stick Resort in the East Valley, where hundreds of retailers and an estimated 6,000 people will see a dozen of his new designs. Fashion Week takes place Oct. 13-15.

Aragon’s company is called ACONAV, which represents the Acoma and Navajo tribes. The latter is in tribute to his wife and business partner, Valentina, who hails from the Navajo Nation.

The brand’s mission is to represent part of the Native American culture in high-end fashion, with the idea of evoking the empowerment of the female spirit. Their work is resonating with many in the fashion world.

“ACONAV clothing is beyond description and is different from anything else out there,” said Taté Walker, editor of Phoenix-based Native Peoples Magazine. “The passion, the care and culture infused within each piece are prevalent in every stitch.”

Two years ago Aragon and his wife left good-paying corporate jobs to devote their full-time efforts to ACONAV.

“There’s a lot of 20-hour days and all-nighters,” said Valentina, who runs the business-operations side while her husband is the creative force. “We haven’t hosted any dinner parties in a while because there’s nowhere to sit.”

That devotion caught the attention of Hill, who has become one of Aragon’s biggest cheerleaders.

“He’s all in,” Hill said of Aragon. “Loren should be doing this full-time because he’s that talented. He’s bright, focused and he has the talent to get to the top.”

Aragon has spent the past two decades trying to get to the top. In high school and college he started a greeting-card company, designing one-off cards and selling them at craft shows for pocket money and tuition. He was also gifted mechanically and pursued an ASU degree in mechanical engineering.

His artistic side was pushed aside for several years as he pursued a successful career testing vehicles and designing military seats and training weapons — pushed aside, that is, until an August 2008 visit to the Santa Fe Indian Market. He was amazed by the amount of contemporary Native American art for sale and sensed a movement was afoot.

“Native American art is traditionally basket weaving, rugs, pottery and silversmith jewelry,” Aragon said. “When I walked around I discovered graphics, painting, photography and sculpture. People were taking their culture and putting it on their art in a lot of different ways. I wanted to find a way to do that, too.”

Aragon was inspired by that visit and renewed his dedication to his once-dormant company. He branched out into illustration, jewelry and sculpting, and he even created a line of street wear. That eventually morphed into women’s couture evening wear when he created a traditional dress with a modern twist.

The polychrome-patterned dress, which he still keeps at home and loans out for special occasions, won first place at the Santa Fe Indian Market in 2013. Since then, orders for his work steadily came in through street fairs, trade shows and his website.

Most of Aragon’s collections display the influences of the pottery designs of the Acoma people with traditional elements as highlights to modern looks. He uses mostly high-end silks and cotton sateens because “they give off a symbol of elegance.”

Aragon hopes Phoenix Fashion Week will be the launching pad for brand success, as each piece of clothing is “an extension of my life, love, creativity and prayers.”

His hope is to eventually have a brick-and-mortar store with a studio, where patrons can buy made-to-order bridal wear, evening attire and cocktail dresses.

Valentina says that idea is appealing on many levels.

“I’d like to host a dinner party again in my lifetime,” she said. “For once I’d like to wake up and not see a dress form or rack of clothes in my entryway.”


Phoenix Fashion Week

What: A series of runway shows at the leading fashion-industry event in the Southwest.

When: Oct. 13-15. The ACONAV show will be at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 15.

Where: Talking Stick Resort, 9800 Talking Stick Way, Salt River Reservation (near Scottsdale).


Top photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU Now