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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


1st recipient of Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation Law Scholarship drawn to hands-on policy work

September 20, 2016

Sarah Crawford was initially terrified to leave her community of Peever, South Dakota, to attend a two-month internship in Washington, D.C. Little did she know that those two months would eventually turn into five years and ultimately lead her to attend the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University and participate in the Indian Legal Program.

Crawford, from the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate community in northeastern South Dakota, is the first recipient of the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation Law Scholarship that was started earlier this year as part of a $1.2 million endowment to the ASU Indian Legal Program. The endowment from the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation will support scholarships, grants and other programs benefitting current and prospective Native American students like Crawford at ASU Law. Sarah Crawford Sarah Crawford, from the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate community in northeastern South Dakota, is the first recipient of the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation Law Scholarship that was started earlier this year as part of a $1.2 million endowment to the ASU Indian Legal Program. Photo by Danielle Williams Download Full Image

“The Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation has been a leader in Arizona for Native voting rights, gaming issues and the protection of tribal sovereignty. It is only fitting that Sarah be the first Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation Scholar as these are our interests as well,” said Kate Rosier, executive director of the Indian Legal Program. “Sarah is a great student and a natural leader. We are proud to have her at ASU Law and as part of the Indian Legal Program family.”

ASU Law and the Indian Legal Program have hundreds of graduates who are practicing in the Indian law field and represent tribes from across the country.

Crawford said it was after doing a yearlong undergraduate research project involving policy and Indian Country that, specifically the Indian Child Welfare Act, a lightbulb went on and she realized the importance that policy work could have.

“For the longest time in my undergrad I didn’t know what to do; I kept bouncing back and forth. I knew I wanted to help out the underserved — that was always my focus. I just didn’t know how to put that into a career, and it wasn’t until I looked into policy work that I realized that policy really impacts change and can create a domino effect,” said Crawford.

After graduating from Minnesota State University-Moorhead with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in business management and political science, she was selected for the Native American Congressional Internship with the Udall Foundation. Every year, the Udall Foundation places Native American students in internships throughout the U.S. Congress and federal agencies.

Crawford was assigned to the office of South Dakota’s U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson. She felt it was the right choice given he was not only the senator from her home state but he also served on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

“To this day I remember that work and the best part was being able to travel back home to South Dakota and work one-on-one with community members, and being able to listen to the issues that were impacting tribes and tribal members on the ground,” said Crawford.

She loved the work so much, she decided to continue working on Capitol Hill as Johnson’s congressional staffer for more than three years after her internship ended. She worked her way up the ranks and eventually became a legislative associate. She became the point person within the office to work on Indian Affairs legislation, specifically working on legislation that would provide tribal tax parity, ensuring program funding for Native languages, and addressing the quality of education in Indian Country. 

Once Johnson decided to retire, Crawford was intent on staying in Washington and joined the staff of the National Indian Gaming Commission, a federal regulatory agency set up to monitor Indian gaming across the U.S. It was there she got the first inkling she wanted to pursue law.

“I got to see what they were doing, that hands-on work on policy that I thought, this was it. This is what I really want to do,” said Crawford.

After meeting ASU alumni from the Indian Legal Program and through the encouragement of her co-workers at the National Indian Gaming Commission, she saw the real possibility of going into law and utilizing her policy and legislative background in a different way. She then applied to ASU and was accepted earlier this year. She is impressed with the reputation of the ASU Indian Legal Program and faculty.

“The professors that they’ve garnered here are the top of the top, and the opportunity to work with these professors that are engaging with the community was another draw for me,” said Crawford.

She says that faculty engagement with Native communities as tribal judges, Native American voting rights advocates and as advisers, shows their commitment to their profession and to Indian law.

She says staying connected to tribal communities by helping solve real-world problems is something she really appreciates and wants to continue pursuing as an ASU Law student and graduate of the Indian Legal Program.

Written by Sharon Tom, American Indian Policy Institute and Office of American Indian Initiatives

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ASU exhibit takes long view of Native well-being

“Native Voices” on display at Hayden Library through late October.
More than 100 tribal leaders, healers, physicians and educators share stories.
September 15, 2016

In latest American Indian health-care move, interactive display examines connection between individual, community

An interactive exhibit installed Thursday at Arizona State’s Hayden Library examines the history, culture and tradition of indigenous medicine to help viewers explore Native American health from a wide-ranging perspective that includes spiritual, social and community well-being.

“Native Voices: Native Peoples’ Concepts of Health and Illness,” on display through late October, looks at the connection between wellness, illness and cultural life through a combination of videos, interviews and images.

It represents the latest of ASU’s efforts to focus on Native health, which special advisor Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy says “must be rethought to reflect the idea that we are interested in American Indian well-being. This includes not only a focus on the well-being of individuals, but communities as well.”

Brayboy, President’s Professor, director of the Center for Indian Education and ASU’s special adviser to the president on American Indian Affairs, continued: “The focus on physical health, devoid of mental and spiritual well-being is stultifying and limited. This exhibit helps us move forward in important ways.” 

Other ASU efforts to support and serve American Indian health care needs in and around Arizona include:

  • Several ongoing projects related to Native youth and substance abuse at the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center.
  • A push to increase the number of indigenous nursing students at ASU through American Indian Students United for Nursing.
  • Efforts to promote, mentor and support Native American nurses and others serving Native people through the Native American Nursing Association.
  • Social work through the Office of American Indian Projects, which has multiple health professionals on its advisory board.  

The new exhibit shares stories that convey how Native people use both traditional and modern methods to enhance their lives, presenting an inspiring account of renaissance, recovery and self-determination.

A public reception, hosted by the Labriola National American Indian Data Center and ASU’s Center for Indian Education, has been scheduled for 4 p.m. Sept. 20 in the Hayden Library, Concourse Level, Room C55.

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Graduate student Kelsey Hinesley (left) and ASU Libraries design strategist Amy Watson (right) work together to set up “Native Voices: Native Peoples’ Concepts of Health and Illness,” which will be on display at the Hayden Library through October. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now


Angela Gonzales, an associate professor of women and gender studies and justice and social inquiry in the School of Social Transformation, will deliver the keynote speech.

“From an indigenous perspective, the very concept of health is not something focused on the physical well-being of an individual, but is instead understood as it encompasses the social, cultural and spiritual well-being of the whole community,” Gonzales said. “Appreciating the holistic understanding of health is essential not only for the planning and delivery of effective health care, but for developing policies and programs aimed at improving individual and community health.”

Produced by the National Library of Medicine, the interactive exhibition is made up of six free-standing banners, each with a specific theme. Tablet computers, headphones and tool kits provide videos, images and interviews with more than 100 tribal leaders, healers, physicians and educators.

The participants describe how the health of American Indians is tied to community, the land and spirit, and the effects of epidemics, federal legislation, the loss of land and the relationship of traditional healing and Western medicine in Native communities.

ASU professor Tennille Marley said she hopes the exhibit will show how colonization has had long-term detrimental health effects on indigenous people, which is part of her research.

“Colonization introduced foods such as sugar and flour, separated us from our gardens and food source and has negatively affected Native American health since the 1800s,” said Marley, an assistant professor of American Indian Studies and a faculty research affiliate with the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center.

Marley said the introduction of processed foods, which have been reinforced through government policies and programs, has contributed to soaring epidemics such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, dementia and Alzheimer’s.

ASU has worked for a year to bring the exhibit to Tempe said Joyce Martin, associate librarian and curator of the Labriola National American Indian Data Center.

“It’s very important the Southwest be represented in this national exhibit,” Martin said. “It was created in Washington D.C. and has traveled to other parts of the country. We have a long indigenous history here and it will have great meaning here.”

The exhibition will up in the library’s concourse until Oct. 26.

Top photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now. 

Reporter , ASU Now


ASU Law graduate discusses Indian Country energy potential

Christopher Deschene, director of U.S. Department of Energy Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs, visits Beus Center for Law and Society on Downtown Phoenix Campus, emphasizes need for lawyers who understand his field

September 15, 2016

The possibilities at Arizona State University are endless, just ask Christopher Deschene.

Deschene, director of the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs, grew up in near Page, Arizona, and is from the Navajo Nation. This month he visited with budding Indian Legal Program students at ASU's Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law in downtown Phoenix to talk about the Office of Indian Energy as students start thinking about developing their careers in law. Chris Deschene Download Full Image

Deschene graduated from ASU in 2005 with a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering and concurrent with his master’s studies, he earned a Juris Doctor (JD) through the Indian Legal Program with a focus on federal Indian law and energy and natural resources.

The Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at ASU established the Indian Legal Program in 1988, providing a unique set of academic and clinical opportunities for students to understand the differences between the legal systems of Indian Nations and state and federal governments.

He recalled how little focus there was on energy.

“When I came here, people said you’re crazy because you want to stick to energy. Why are you doing that? We need lawyers and anything else but energy. I said, no one is focusing on energy,” Deschene said.

“When I first came to ASU they had offered energy as an elective. It wasn’t a mainstay discussion, and it wasn’t offered, Indian energy. We were talking more about natural resources and water.”

Licensed to practice law in Arizona and the Navajo Nation, he focused in business and energy development, natural resources and environmental policies. The goal: to strengthen tribal communities and sustain future generations.

Christopher Deschene

Christopher Deschene, director of the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs.

Deschene described the Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs as a progression of Indian energy and Indian energy policies. Among their goals for Indian Country is to promote energy development, efficiency and use and bring electrical power and service to Indian lands and the homes of tribal members.

There are 567 federally recognized tribes and there are staggering gaps between Indian Country and the rest of the U.S., including basic infrastructure needs like having ready access to electricity.

This is a consistent problem across Indian Country and an important problem Deschene and his office are trying to fix. He strongly believes tribes have potential, stating that American Indian lands consist of 2 percent of the land base, but tribes can provide up to 5 percent of the country’s renewable energy generation.

“There is potential in Indian Country, and it hasn’t been developed in a way to help national and administrative goals for energy security, resiliency, climate change. And Indian Country can be part of that,” Deschene said.

Deschene smiled and said people thought he was crazy because he pursued his graduate engineering degree with a focus on renewable energy while working on his JD.

Focused and determined, he knew where he was going.

“I’ve been to a number of schools, you guys are in the best program in the country. I will say that without any reservations,” he said, crediting Kate Rosier, executive director of the Indian Legal Program, for her support during his time at ASU.

He emphasized that there is a need for practitioners, lawyers, tribal and federal law practitioners who have are well-versed in energy.

Deschene had a vison and took the road less traveled, taking a dual-discipline approach, much like the interdisciplinary degrees offered at ASU today, fulfilling the mission of the New American University: solving for the problems of today and those of the future.

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Tribal Radio Summit at ASU unites Native talent

Radio remains vital form of communication for many remote, tribal communities.
Tribal leaders, federal officials discuss way to expand Native radio ownership.
July 22, 2016

FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn emphasizes media diversity

Remember when AOL became mainstream? That was two decades ago. Since then we have evolved from dial-up to high-speed internet, from flip phones to smartphones. At a swipe of a finger, we can take pictures, stream video and chase Pokémon.

Meanwhile, our neighbors in tribal communities are determined to keep pace with technology and enhance communication methods across remote areas. For many, especially those in rural communities, radio remains essential for news and alerts.

This week, radio producers, station managers, hosts and media experts from Native communities gathered in downtown Phoenix at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication for the Tribal Radio Summit hosted by the Federal Communications Commission, in partnership with Native Public Media, the National Federation of Public Broadcasters and ASU’s American Indian Policy Institute.

The summit has allowed people from across the country to share ideas, learn important policies and collaborate, delivering advice about what can be done to propel Native radio forward and make this medium of communication more pronounced in their communities.

The summit brings together key players, including FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn and Geoffrey Blackwell, vice chair on the Board of Advisors for ASU’s American Indian Policy Institute and chair of Native Public Media.

“Summits like these are critically important for tribal nations because working with the federal government and the intertribal organizations brings together all the players in a particular industry, creating an opportunity for tribal nations,” Blackwell said.

He added such conferences help Native leaders understand laws, regulations, opportunities and risks associated with mass communication and closing the digital divide.

“Our nation is the largest in land mass after Navajo and because of that we don’t have full coverage with the stations we have,” Sial Thonolig, from the Tohono O’odham nation and station manager of KOHN, said.

“The reason we are here is to find out about the tribal allotment process because we still have, in spite of the fact that we’re looking at four radio stations we still have unserved areas,” he said. “We’re hoping to use the tribal allotment process to serve the unserved areas. So that’s why we’re very interested in coming up here and hearing from the commission staff, how to do that.”

Through a series of guest panels, attendees received information on what it takes to build and run a successful radio operation. The panels also covered the FCC's Tribal Radio Priority and how that makes it easier for tribal applicants to obtain broadcast station licenses.

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Loris Taylor, Native Public Media president and CEO, and Lyle Ishida, acting chief of the Office of Native Affairs and Policy, address attendees during the Tribal Radio Summit panel at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, July 21. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

The highlight of the summit was Clyburn's keynote address on the importance of station ownership and diversity.

“I wish for you what I wish for myself, and I work for you in a way that I would work for the communities in which I nurtured,” she said, emphasizing that she is committed to examine the unique communication challenges in tribal lands, rural communities and poor urban neighborhoods.

“We started this journey together, and it is critical that we continue to collaborate and develop those next paths forward,” Clyburn said.

Antonia Gonzalez is the host and producer for National Native News, an entity of Koahnic Broadcast Corporation. Her passion for radio radiated as she sat in the audience during Clyburn’s speech. She is excited about her work and what it means to the Native community.

”Our mission of Koahnic Broadcast Corporation to be a leader and bringing indigenous voices to the air in Alaska and across the nation,” she said. “Often times in the mainstream media there is a lack or a nonexistent view from tribes, of tribes, from the Native perspective so it’s our jobs to bring the Native perspective in stories to the nation.”

Top photo: FCC commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn addresses the first Tribal Radio Summit hosted by the FCC at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Wednesday, July 20. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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Native American radio summit empowers station owners, prospects

Advocates to discuss how to expand, improve Native-owned radio stations.
Conference at Cronkite School in downtown Phoenix features FCC commissioner.
July 15, 2016

Media diversity advocates say Native-owned radio stations are especially important on rural reservations and that more networks are needed

Loris Taylor knows firsthand how tough it can be to run a radio station in Indian Country.

When she first took over KUYI 88.1 FM on the Hopi reservation in northern Arizona in 2000, she had no support system and at one point made an engineer sketch equipment diagrams on an office chalkboard so she could see how everything fit together.

It was a bad signal for Taylor and others who say radio transmissions are vital in rural areas with limited access to newspapers, local TV and consistent internet service. “I literally knew nothing, and I was the general manager,” Taylor said. “There was no learning curve for me because everything was a straight vertical line.”

But now, thanks in part to efforts from Taylor, who left the station 11 years ago to help start the diversity advocacy group Native Public Media, the task isn’t as daunting and radio is a growing platform on reservations across the U.S.

Taylor’s group aims to improve and expand existing Native-owned and -operated radio stations and to increase the number and reach of such stations. Native Public Media — along with Arizona State University’s American Indian Policy Institute, the Federal Communications Commission’s Office of Native Affairs and Policy, and the National Federation of Community Broadcasters — is hosting a three-day summit starting July 19 at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in downtown Phoenix. Organizers plan to give Native American broadcasters an overview of radio station management, operation requirements, federal regulations, programming, funding and engineering.

“Tribal radio is a lifeline on tribal reservations,” said Traci Morris, American Indian Policy Institute director. She said the conference will provide a needed boost and that “the Cronkite School is the perfect place for Native radio and media professionals to assemble and to consult with the FCC.”

A woman sits in front of radio recording equipment.

Loris Taylor, president and CEO of Native Public Media, has made it her mission
to expand access to local radio on Indian reservations across the U.S.

Tribes have been lobbying the federal agency to grant more broadcast licenses to Native owners on tribal lands. Since 2007, the FCC has approved dozens of new stations in Indian Country. In 2010, the agency adopted a “tribal priority” rule to make it easier for Native owners to obtain radio licenses. The agency’s former Native affairs liaison, Geoffrey C. Blackwell, who also will attend the summit, said in a 2013 statement that the rule is intended to help “provide radio service tailored to specific tribal needs and cultures” and foster “localism and diversity of ownership.”

There are more than 560 federally recognized tribes across the U.S. comprising more than 4 million people. Including the recent growth, advocates say there are currently 58 Indian radio stations and about 20 more headed toward approval. The expansion is promising, but not enough, they say.

“Most of Indian Country is still dark,” Taylor said. “We’re just not wired.”

Summit attendees will hear from FCC Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn, who organizers say has become known as an advocate for media diversity. Clyburn didn’t return an email seeking comment for this story, but she is scheduled to speak Wednesday.   

For Taylor, the conference marks a significant moment, but it by no means signals that her work is over. With more stations on tribal lands, people will be better informed about government, public safety and other issues that affect their communities, she said. Native people also will be able to turn back negative stereotypes by telling their own stories, even in remote areas, she said.

“Radio is a technology that serves Indian Country well,” Taylor said, “because all it requires is a small appliance in the household.”

Top photo: Producer Justin Miller of KLND 89.5 FM in McLaughlin, South Dakota, takes a seat behind the microphone.